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 come cases up to 18 weeks – which includes caring for a newborn 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.
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.
Progressive pay benefits
The benefits for employees are progressive, based on weekly wages, and top off at $1,000 per week. For example, someone earning $540 per week at minimum wage would get a weekly benefit of $486 (90 percent); someone earning $54,000 per year ($1,040 per week) would have a weekly benefit of $771 (74 percent); and someone making $85,000 per year ($1,635 per week) would have a weekly benefit of $1,000 (61 percent).
Who is covered
Everyone who worked at least 820 hours in the previous year, including with multiple employers, will be covered. Additionally, paid family and medical leave will be full portable between jobs, including periods between jobs. For example, a construction worker who moves from job to job could schedule a surgery for after the current job will end. Self-employed people and contract workers may opt in for 3-year minimums.
Affordable for everyone
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.
Support for businesses
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.