Paid sick leave and paid family medical leave are two recent, big developments in Washington employment law. On January 1, 2019, premium assessments will begin for the new Paid Family Medical Leave (PFML) system managed by Employment Security Department (ESD). The family leave portion will be funded by employees (via payroll deductions) unless an employer elects to pay some or all these premiums. The medical leave portion will be funded by employees and employers.
Benefits will be available to employees beginning on January 1, 2020. Employees may receive up to 12 weeks of PFML benefits annually for:
Employees also receive up to 12 weeks of paid medical leave benefits annually for their own serious health conditions. There are combined limits if an employee seeks leave under both categories. An employee must work a certain number of hours for covered employees during a qualifying period to be eligible.
ESD is still developing the Washington Administrative Codes (WACs) that will govern the system. Additional information about the leave program and how to participate in the rulemaking process.
Keep reading below for more details about the new law.
Premium assessment begins on January 1, 2019. The initial premium rate is 0.4 percent of wages. Employers can deduct from the employees’ wages 100 percent of the premiums due for the family leave and up to 45 percent of the premiums due for the medical leave. An employer may elect to pay all of the premiums. Employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from paying the employer share of premiums. If they elect to pay,
they can qualify for some assistance when employees take leave (see Subsidy section below). Self-employed individuals can elect coverage. Employers can create their own PFML system (voluntary plan) with equivalent benefits and requirements.
Benefits will be available beginning on January 1, 2020. Employees may receive up to 12 weeks of PFML benefits annually for: bonding after the birth or placement of a child under 18; family member’s serious health condition; or certain military assignments. Employees also may receive up to 12 weeks of paid medical leave benefits annually for their own serious health condition (an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves certain level of care or continuing treatment, which includes things like hospitalizations, incapacity due to pregnancy, or treatment for substance abuse). If an employee experiences both scenarios, they can receive up to 16 weeks of combined benefits or 18 weeks if experiencing a serious health condition with a pregnancy that results in incapacity.
Employees are eligible for benefits after working at least 820 hours (20.5 weeks at 40 hours per week; 41 weeks at 20 hours per week) for covered employers during the qualifying period. The qualifying period is either the first four of the last five full calendar quarters or the last four full calendar quarters.
The benefits will be a percentage of the employee’s average weekly wage (AWW) during the two highest quarters in the qualifying period. The maximum weekly benefit is $1,000 (adjusted annually). The minimum weekly benefit is $100, or, if the AWW is less than $100, then the employee’s full wage.
There is a grant for employers with 150 or fewer employees and employers with 50 or fewer employees who are assessed all premiums (for three years from the date of receipt of the grant). The grant is for $3,000 if a temp worker is hired to replace an employee on family or medical leave for
7+ days. There is a separate grant for up to $1,000 as reimbursement for significant additional wage-related costs due to the leave. An employer cannot receive both, but can get the difference between them if the leave was extended and a temp worker then had to be hired. The employer is not eligible if it has an approved voluntary plan (i.e. its own separate PFML system).
There is employment protection for employees who return to work (being restored post-leave to their position or an equivalent position; not losing benefits accrued pre-leave). Employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from providing these protections (“For the purposes of this subsection, an employer shall be considered to employ fifty or more employees if the employer employs fifty or more employees for each working day during each of twenty or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.” Substitute Senate Bill 5975, Sec. 31(6)(a)). A restored employee is not entitled to accrual of seniority or employment benefits during the period of leave. But the employer must maintain any existing health benefits for the employee on leave as if the employee continued to work; the employee remains responsible for any share they were required to cover.
It is unlawful to discriminate or retaliate against an employee who makes a claim or complaint or participates in an investigation under the PFML law.
Disclaimer: This article and blog are intended to inform the reader of general legal principles applicable to the subject area. They are not intended to provide legal advice regarding specific problems or circumstances. Readers should consult with competent counsel with regard to specific situations.
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