Get Ready for Washington State’s New Paid Family and Medical Leave Program

Are you ready for the new Washington State Paid Family and Medical Leave to go into effect on January 1, 2020?  If you are a Washington State-based employer and have even one employee, it’s time to get familiar with this new program.

Last week I attended a webinar presented by the Washington Employment Security Department (ESD) to learn more about the program.  I’d like to pass some info along to my Washington State employers who may be wondering how it will affect them.  

I’m writing this as an FAQ in order to help you pick out the pieces that are most relevant to your business.  It should be noted that they are still in the rule-making process, and expect to be doing so until mid-December.  That means that things aren’t crystal clear yet.  Here’s what we know so far:

What is Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave?

This is a program that will allow employees to take up to 12 paid weeks off in a year (or up to 18 in certain circumstances) if they themselves are sick, if they are caring for a sick family member, if they are preparing for a military deployment or spending R&R with a deployed military member, for either parent to bond with a new child (through birth, adoption, or foster placement).

How does an employee qualify for the program?

In order to qualify for the program, the employee must have worked 820 hours in the previous year. It is possible that the 820 hours were not all worked for the same employer.

Do employees have to take all of their eligible PFML at once?

Photo by Ana Tablas on Unsplash

No.  Employees can take their leave one day at a time if they want.  There must be a minimum of eight concurrent hours used in one week, and in the case of a new child they must use the leave within one year of the birth or placement.  For example, a person with cancer could take off one day per week for eight weeks in order to receive chemotherapy treatment.  A new mother could take off eight weeks, and then decide to take only one day a week off for the next 20 weeks after that.  Or new parents can decide that one parent will take off the first 12 weeks of a child’s life, and the other parent will take the following 12 weeks off, in order to provide the most parental coverage possible to the new baby.    If your employee welcomed a new baby, adoption, or foster placement in 2019, they are still eligible for PFML from January 1, 2020 until the first anniversary of the event.

Do I have to pay for this?

PFML is paid out to employees by the state.  It’s funded similarly to unemployment – you pay in a little, and the State provides benefits directly to the employee if she or he applies and qualifies.  If you have under 50 employees, you are not required to pay into the fund at all.

Do I have to hold their job open while they are gone?

Maybe, depending on your circumstances. 

No — If you have fewer than 50 employees.  You are required to give the employee notice if you do not intend to hold their job.

Yes, if:

  • You have 50 or more employees, and
  • The employee has worked for you for at least one year, and
  • The employee has worked for you 20 weeks or more in the last year, and
  • The employee has worked for you at least 1250 hours in the last year, and
  • The employee maintains regular contact with you throughout their leave.

Do I have to manage this program in any way?

Minimally.  Employees apply for the financial benefit through the State, just like unemployment.  Also just like unemployment, the State will decide how much benefit they will receive, and the State will monitor them each week while on leave to make sure they still qualify. 

Your requirements:

  • Quarterly reporting of hours worked and wages.  This reporting began in 2019.  If you were unaware of this, you should begin reporting here
  • Collect and pay employee (and employer, if required) portions of premiums.
  • Give notice to employees that this program is available.  According to ESD, there will be a required workplace poster that you will find here once it’s available later this year.
  • If an employee applies for the program, you will be notified and asked to verify that the employee gave you appropriate notice.

Do employees have to tell me before they go on leave?

Yes.  Employees are required to give you at least 30-days notice, when possible.  For example, if an employee schedules a surgery, they should tell you at least 30 days prior, or if less than 30 days, as soon as they know.  If the situation is illness or emergency, they are permitted to tell you as soon as possible.

Can I require employees to use my sick leave or PTO program before taking PFLA?

No.  In fact, employees will now be able to take PFLA in addition to your leave benefits. 

If I have 50 or more employees, does this run concurrently with FMLA?

The ESD representative was very vague and unsure on this topic.  I would expect more clarification to come out soon.  What I can say for sure is that the definition of family is broader under PFML than under FMLA, including in-laws, grandparents, and step-parents.

How much of the employee’s salary will be covered by PFML?

There is apparently a formula for this, but it will likely be about 70%.

Can I “top off” my employees so they can receive their full salary while on leave?

The State is still in the rule-making process around this question, but the current answer is yes.  Stay tuned for more information in December and January. 

Is there any assistance for my business while my employee is on leave?

Photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash

Yes. If you are paying the employer portion through payroll, you may be eligible for a $1000 or $3000 grant to cover the costs of hiring a temporary worker. If you are a small business under 50 employees, remember that you are not required to pay the employer portion of the premium. ESD says that they will allow you to start paying your portion at the time of your grant application, with the stipulation that you will have to continue paying the employer share for the next three years.

Where can I find more information?

You can find more FAQ’s directly from the employment security department here.

How do you expect this new law to affect your business?  What concerns do you have?  I look forward to our discussion in the comments below!

As always, I want to remind you that I am not an attorney, and this article is for informational purposes only.  It’s a great idea to talk to your attorney about any new policies you are considering, because only she knows how the law affects your particular situation.

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