New Year’s 2019 Marks the Start of Family Leave Contributions

Paid family and medical leave is about to get real in Washington!

On New Year’s Day 2019, workers and employers begin contributing to the trust fund that will finance benefits. A year later starting in January 2020, workers will be able to stay home with a new baby or ailing parent, recover from their own serious illness, or cope with a family member’s military deployment knowing they will still have an income.

Until now, only a small minority of workers have had access to extended periods of paid time off – mostly highly paid tech employees and a few others who happened to win the “boss lottery.” Federal law allows people in larger firms who work enough hours over a long enough period to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a new child, seriously ill family member, or their own serious health condition – but over 40 percent of workers don’t even qualify for that. Most people save up and cobble together what little vacation and sick leave time they have – if they get it – and add in a little unpaid time – if they can afford it – when they have to take time for family or their own health.

Washington is just the fifth state to provide a paid family and medical leave benefit for everyone in the workforce. A large coalition of organizations and individuals campaigned for and won a resounding bipartisan victory in Washington’s state legislature in 2017, with broad support from voters and the business community.

Here’s how it works. Employees who make $1,000 a week can expect to see a payroll deduction of $2.53 each week, and their employer will contribute another $1.47. Employers can also choose to cover the full premiums themselves. In companies with fewer than 50 employees, only the employee portion is required – but those employees will be fully eligible for all benefits. Employers will forward the premiums and information on hours and earnings of their employees to ESD at the end of each calendar quarter, beginning in April 2019. Self-employed and contract workers will also be able to opt in starting in February.

Starting in January 2020, anyone who worked at least 820 hours the previous year for any combination of employers will be eligible to take up to 12 weeks, and in some cases up to 18 weeks, of leave for a qualifying event, drawing benefits from the fund. Benefits for minimum wage workers will be 90% of their usual gross wages, and for that $1,000 per week employee about 74%.

Washington’s Employment Security Department (ESD) has prepared a toolkit for employers as well as information for employees and the public.

Soon, we can look forward to the same positive outcomes that people in California, New Jersey, and the other states that went before us have had: healthier babies and new moms, greater involvement of fathers with their children, stronger family economic security, better health for all ages, greater equity across gender, race, and income, and thriving businesses.


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