Paid Family and Medical Leave
In 2017, Washington passed a new law to help workers stay healthy and protect loved ones. These laws are the result of the activism and collaboration of many individuals, community groups, labor unions, business owners and policy makers. Research from successful program in other states show that with paid family and medical leave insurance:
- babies are healthier and thrive better in their first year and beyond,
- people of all ages recover more quickly from serious illness,
- seniors are better supported as they age,
- women are more likely to continue employment following childbirth and earn higher wages,
- families are more economically secure,
- and businesses continue to thrive.
Washington’s paid family and medical leave program will work like insurance. Workers and their employers have begun paying a small premium with each paycheck. Beginning January 1, 2020, an employee can take 12 weeks of paid family leave – and in some cases up to 18 weeks – which includes caring for a newborn, foster placement or newly-adopted child or a family member with a serious health condition. Workers can also take time to be with a family member injured in military service, or to deal with exigencies of military deployment.
For a comic explaining the difference between sick leave and family and medical leave, click here.
For a report on how advocates won paid leave in Washington, click here.
For a factsheet about what generally qualifies for military-related leave, click here.
For more research about paid family and medical leave, click here.
We at EOI are writing scenarios to give a sense of how paid family and medical leave might work in the real world. Here are what we have so far:
Janet is a single mom about to have her second child. She works for a local non-profit organization with fewer than 50 employees, which means her employer is not required to hold her job. However, her employer pays Janet’s portion of the PFML premium and has told Janet that she will always have a job.
At her prenatal visit, her doctor discovers Janet’s blood pressure has spiked and tells her she’ll have to take leave right away. Janet lets her supervisor know and applies for PFML benefits.
Two weeks later, she gives birth by C-section. Because of the pregnancy-related complications, Janet qualifies for 18 weeks of combined medical and family leave. Janet’s doctor says she’ll need care while she recovers from surgery, so her sister Linda can also take a few weeks of paid family leave to help out. With the extra time and support, Janet is able to regain her physical and emotional strength, successfully establish breastfeeding, and return to work confident that she is ready and her baby is thriving.
For women, having support from family and friends and from programs like paid family and medical leave is important. It allows women who give birth to a child to heal faster, allowing them to go back to work sooner, which could help her chances for promotions.
The adoption agency has just informed Jack and Steve that a teenage mom has just given birth to a healthy boy and has chosen them to be the parents.
Overjoyed, Jack and Steve rush to get the baby room ready, friends and family begin to gift them baby gear and they decide which of the two will take off work to care for their new bundle of joy during his first months of life. They also let their employers know they’ll need to take parental leave starting in two weeks.
Jack works full-time for a large company and his job is secure. He can access 12 weeks from the paid family leave program and use two weeks of vacation for a total of 14 weeks. Steve has only been at his current job working part-time at a book store for eight months. Unlike in Jack’s case, Steve’s employer is not required by law to hold his job for him, but after discussing it, his supervisor agrees that she wants to keep her trained employee on staff.
Steve and Jack decide that they will both take the first two weeks off when their little one first comes home, then Steve will return to work, saving his other 10 weeks of leave for when Jack goes back to his job. This will allow Jack to “pass the torch” to Steve. The couple will have a total of 24 weeks of time with their child. This way, their new baby will bond individually with each parent and have someone to take him to all his check-ups and vaccines. Jack and Steve will be also save thousands of dollars on infant child care.
They can each use paid family and medical leave to take care of the new baby. Although they’ve been together 14 years, they haven’t gotten married since it became legal, meaning they can’t yet take paid leave to take care of each other.
Maria and Max have welcomed their first child into their family. They let their employers know they planned to take paid family leave 30 days before the expected due date. Like all birth mothers, Maria qualifies for both medical leave to recover from childbirth and family leave to bond with her baby. Since her pregnancy and birth had no serious “complications,” she qualifies for a total of 16 weeks of leave. Maria works in HR for a major retailer in the city and Max works for a large tech company. Both have job security. Max will take four weeks of leave to help Maria recover, assist with getting the baby to and from doctor’s visits and get them settled. When Maria’s 16 weeks are up, she will go back to work and Max will take another four weeks of leave.
Maria recently confided to best friend Elena how relieved she is that Paid Family and Medical Leave has decreased her worry about being able to recover her strength, breast feed, enjoy her baby’s first few months, and also keep the job she enjoys. Max was anxious that people at work would frown on him taking eight weeks of paternity leave, but found to his surprise that his employer was not only supportive, but provided an extra “top off” benefit so that he would receive his full usual pay.
In 2020, Elena Garcia is finally promoted to Army Sergeant. She has worked hard to get here and she and her family are feeling very proud. Elena is stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Pierce County. Her husband, Sam, teaches at a high school in Tacoma. They have two daughters and also together care for Elena’s mother who can no longer live independently.
Elena is suddenly deployed. She only has a few days at home to prepare for her departure. Sam won’t be able to adequately support his mother-in-law on his own, so needs to make new care arrangements for her.
With paid leave, he can make new arrangements for childcare or elder care, take leave during Elena’s R&R, spend time with Elena during reintegration, attend military ceremonies, and deal with short-notice deployments.
Sam notifies his school principle and applies for paid leave benefits from the state. As a senior teacher, his regular earnings qualify him for the maximum weekly benefit of $1,000 from the fund (not his employer). Sam is then able to take the time away from work necessary to find a home care provider who speaks Spanish and with whom his mother-in-law feels comfortable.
When Elena later receives an award for bravery, Sam will be able to fly to Washington, D.C. for the ceremony and take an additional week of paid leave to celebrate with Elena, which they were not able to do with the sudden deployment.
Let’s say that my mother, Dolores, breaks her leg on the treacherous basement landing. My brother and I would be eligible to take 12 weeks to care for her and get her back on her feet. My husband could also take care of his mother-in-law. But my half-sister with no legal connection to my mother could not — even though my mother plays the role of a mother to her as an adult.
In my large family, I can take paid leave from work to take care of seven people – my husband, my son, my mother, my sister, my brother, my mother-in-law, and my father-in-law.
If Mabel, my niece, is the victim of such fall, her mom would of course be able to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for her. But as her favorite aunt, I would at most be able to bring her a few meals during her recovery. I could not get paid family leave to care for her.
Marriage also means lots of changes in benefits. Married couples can take care of each other, while unmarried couples under age 62 cannot. If an unmarried couple live together, like Bertina and Clarence, Clarence can take leave to care for Bertina’s daughter, since he plays the role of father in her life. But if they do not live together and act “in loco parentis”, like in the case of Agnes and Jesús, they cannot take leave for each other’s kids.
What matters most, however, is that everyone has someone who can take care of them in times of need – and they can do so without putting themselves in financial straits.
When you need to take an extended leave for a covered condition, first notify your employer (30 days in advance when possible), then apply directly to the Paid Leave Program. Beginning in 2020, an employee can take up to 12 weeks of either paid medical or family leave, with an additional 2 weeks for a complication related to pregnancy. The total combined leave a worker can take in a year is 16 weeks, or 18 weeks if it includes a pregnancy-related complication.
- For a new child, both parents can take 12 weeks of family leave, and birth mothers are also entitled to medical leave to recover from childbirth, for a total of 16 to 18 weeks.
- Medical leaves will require a 1-week waiting period (during which you can use sick leave or paid time off, if available) and medical certification.
- Leave doesn’t have to be taken all at once. For example, a non-birth parent could take a few weeks off when the baby is born and save the rest for when their partner returns to work. Someone with cancer might take two weeks off to recover from surgery, then a day a week for chemo treatments.
Our new law will make paid family and medical leave affordable for Washington employees and business owners, paid for by payroll premiums. Workers will pay 63 percent of the weekly premium, with employers contributing 37 percent. So someone working full-time at minimum wage contributes $1.36 per week, and the employer pays $0.80 per week. Someone making $54,000 per year pays $2.62 per week, and the employer $1.54; and someone making $85,000 per year pays $4.12 per week, and the employer $2.42. Companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from paying the employer share, but their employees still pay the same rate.
The state government has a premium calculator here.
Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not required to pay the employer share of premiums, but may choose to do so to be eligible for small business assistance funds. Companies with fewer than 150 employees that pay employer premiums may apply for $3,000 to cover costs of training new replacement workers, or up to $1,000 for other costs of covering work when someone is out on leave (such as overtime or training a current employee for additional work). Companies may opt to provide their own benefits of equal length and at least equal financial compensation and apply for a waiver from the state program.
Time for life’s joys and emergencies
At some point in their life, everyone needs to take extended time away from work to care for themselves or a loved one, whether for a new child, a car accident, or a medical emergency. With paid family and medical leave, Washington workers will be able to care for a loved one or fully recover from their own health emergencies, without facing a financial crisis. Paid family and medical leave will help ensure every Washington child has a solid foundation for lifelong health, learning, and opportunity, and support health, healing, and dignity across the lifespan.
Better health and equity for women, babies, and families
Paid family leave improves maternal and infant health and also allows new fathers time to bond, with lasting positive benefits for the child and family. Women in states with paid leave programs are more likely to be working a year following childbirth, less likely to go on public assistance, and earn more than women in other states. Paid family leave in Washington will also mean people can take time to care for aging parents or other family members. It can mean the difference between a quick recovery at home or an extended stay in an expensive nursing facility – for seniors and people of all ages.
Predictable for business
Paid family and medical leave provides insurance so the employers don’t have to cover the full cost of an employee’s leave themselves, and exempts businesses with fewer than 50 employees from paying premiums. That allows smaller companies to better compete, and gives them the flexibility to add hours for other employees or bring on additional help when someone goes out on leave. The cost is low and predictable from year to year. Employees are more likely to come back to work when they are ready to focus and be fully productive, and with peace of mind morale goes up, too. Our new Washington paid family and medical leave program will lift up workers, businesses, and seniors, and help build thriving and healthy communities for us all.