Washington State and Seattle may be the epicenter for coronavirus in the US. Fortunately, we also have a strong public health system and some of the most comprehensive paid leave laws in the country.
- Stay home when sick
- Wash your hands with warm soapy water frequently for 20 seconds
- Don’t touch your face
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or sleeve
People who work in restaurants and shops in Washington have paid sick days.
Unfortunately, some Asian restaurants are reporting a sharp drop in business. Remember, viruses do not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity. Don’t panic or over react. Do use common sense and pay attention to public health announcements to protect yourself, your loved ones, and the larger community.
Paid Sick Days
You are entitled to use sick days for:
- your own illness or preventative care,
- a sick family member,
- to deal with the consequences of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking,
- if your place of work or child’s school or care center is closed by a public health official.
Most employees are entitled to at least one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked and to carry forward unused sick leave. In Seattle, workers in companies with 250 or more employees get at least one hour for every 30 hours worked.
Many employers and union contracts include more generous paid leave provisions.
Paid Family & Medical Leave
Washington is one of only five states to provide comprehensive Paid Family & Medical Leave (PFML) for:
- longer term serious health conditions of a worker or family member that require hospitalization or ongoing medical care for at least 3 days;
- new parents during the first 12 months following birth or placement of an adopted or foster child;
- leaves necessitated by a family member’s overseas military deployment.
Generally people can take up to 12 weeks and in some cases up to 18 weeks of PFML in a year.
Anyone who worked at least 820 hours in Washington last year is covered, except federal employees, some tribal employees, and some union workers whose contracts haven’t reopened since 2017.
PFML benefits start at 90% of usual pay, up to $1,000 per week. PFML is administered by Washington State and funded through payroll premiums, generally paid both by employees and employers.
You can learn more about and apply at paidleave.wa.gov.
Wait times: PFML has received far more applications in the first two months than anticipated. Currently, it is taking about 10 weeks to approve initial applications and an additional 2 weeks to pay weekly claims. However, benefits will be paid retroactively.
By June, wait times should be down to 2 weeks. Meanwhile, employers have the option of offering employees supplemental benefits while they wait for claims to be paid.
Interaction with FMLA and Employer-Provided Leave
Many employers provide additional paid leave voluntarily or under collective bargaining agreements. Employers may also allow employees to use legally required paid sick days for other purposes, offering it as PTO or general paid time off.
Employees have the right to choose whether or not to use paid sick days or PFML, and in which order, if they are eligible for both.
Employers may choose to allow employees to extend PFML with employer-provided leave. They may also offer supplemental benefits to “top off” PFML benefits.
Employees may also choose whether or not to use sick leave or PTO during the official waiting week for PFML involving a serious health condition. Benefits are payable beginning the second calendar week for leaves for the worker or family member’s serious health condition. (However, using sick leave or PTO that is not designated “supplemental benefits” by the employer while awaiting approval may affect how much benefit you receive.)
Workers in companies with 50 or more employees who are also covered by the federal Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) will have job protection while on PFML leave. Generally, PFML and FMLA will run concurrently, although PFML covers additional family members, so in some cases FMLA will not apply (but you will still have job protection). FMLA covers workers in companies with 50+ employees who have worked at least a year with that employer and at least 1,250 hours the previous year.
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