Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

About Washington Family and Medical Leave Insurance

Family reading.What’s happening now: In 2007, Washington’s legislature approved a Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program to provide parents of newborn or newly adopted children up to 5 weeks of partially paid leave. FMLI as originally adopted wasn’t funded due to the 2008 recession. Implementation has been delayed to 2015. Now Washington policy makers have the opportunity to expand and adapt the 2007 program to better serve workers, families, and businesses.

What current law covers: Federal and state family and medical leave laws allow workers to take up to 12 weeks off work to care for a new child or sick family member or to recover from their own health condition. But that leave is unpaid, and those laws only apply to about 60% of workers. Those who work for companies with fewer than 50 employees, have been with their employer less than a full year, or work fewer than 24 hours per week on average aren’t covered.

That means most of the American workforce has only a few days or weeks of paid leave available – and many workers have none at all – leaving families unprotected and vulnerable. Low-income and part-time workers are less likely to receive any type of workplace benefit without legal protection, and many don’t get a single paid day off.

How Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FMLI) works: FMLI is “wage insurance” for workers, to be used in the event of a major family or medical event – like welcoming a new child, fighting cancer, caring for an aging parent. FMLI is for the handful of times in life when we all need to take significant time off work to care for ourselves or our families.

Under the proposal now in the legislature (House | Senate), family leave insurance benefits will begin in October 2015, and disability insurance benefits in 2016. It will cover up to 12 weeks to care for a new child or seriously ill family member, and 12 weeks for the worker’s own serious health condition, at 2/3 of the worker’s weekly pay up to a maximum $1,000/week. To receive the maximum benefit, a worker would need to earn approximately $79,000/year.

Estimated costs: Premiums will start in July 2014 to build up the fund, with workers and employers each paying 0.1% (that’s 1/10th of 1 percent) of pay, or a little under $1.00 per week for the average $50,000 earner. When disability benefits are added in 2016, premiums would rise to an average of about $2.00 per week for the wage-earner in this example. (These cost estimates are based on long-standing programs in California and New Jersey.)

Here’s how the cost per worker for various professions at average pay rates:

Worker earning Weekly premium Annual premium Weekly benefit

$17,000 (restaurant worker)




$23,500 (childcare teacher)




$28,400 (retail salesperson)




$50,000 (average earning)




$75,800 (registered nurse)




And here’s what that would look like for their employers:

Business and employees Weekly premium Annual premium

Childcare with 3 teachers



Retail shop with 5 salespeople



Restaurant with 15 employees



Small metal parts manufacturer with 15 employees



As awareness of the program grows, costs will likely gradually increase, topping out after 6 to 8 years at a total premium between 0.5% and 0.6% – that is, 0.25% to 0.3% each for employers and employees. At that point, a $50,000 wage earner would pay about $125 to $150 total per year, as would their employer.

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