The rush of employment laws that went into effect at the start of the year includes a biggie in Washington State: paid family medical leave (PFML).
Washington is the latest in a growing group of states adding paid leave laws. Eight states, plus Washington, D.C., have passed PFML bills, though not all have gone into effect:
- Connecticut (effective Jan. 1, 2022)
- Massachusetts (effective Jan. 1, 2021)
- New Jersey
- New York
- Oregon (effective Jan. 1, 2023)
- Rhode Island
- Washington, D.C. (effective July 1, 2020)
While there has been a major push for paid sick leave laws at the city and county levels in recent years, PFML legislation had only been enacted at the state level, as of this writing. Washington’s paid family medical leave bill went into effect Jan. 1, 2020.
Washington State PFML: How It Works
PFML in Washington State applies to all employers, though the self-employed may opt in.
To be eligible, employees must have worked at least 820 hours in four of the five quarters prior leave application.
PFML is funded through premiums paid by employees and employers. Though smaller businesses are not required to pay, they must still collect and submit their workers’ share of the premium.
Meanwhile, there are also posting and notice requirements for employers.
Find more information on Washington’s PFML, including a toolkit for employers, on the state’s website.
Maximum Length of Leave
Employees using PFML in Washington can take a 16 weeks total per year for combined their own serious health condition and family leave (18 weeks maximum if employee experiences pregnancy-related serious health condition resulting in incapacity).
The state does not allow carryover of unused PFML hours.
When it comes to benefits, the state uses a complex formula. Benefit amounts are tied to how much the employee earns and the state’s average weekly wage. The state has a webpage available for employees to calculate benefits.
Eligible reasons for using PFML in Washington include bonding with a new child (birth, adoption or foster), caring for one’s own or a family member’s health issue, and qualifying exigency for family member on active duty.
Eligible Family Members
Who qualifies as an eligible family member is narrowly defined in Washington: child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild, sibling and parents-in-law.
The Rise of Paid Leave Laws
Lawmakers are increasingly cognizant of the dearth of paid leave laws in the U.S., especially compared to other industrialized nations.
Finland, for example, recently announced a policy to provide almost seven months of paid leave to new parents. And federal employees in the U.S. will receive paid parental leave starting in October 2020.
But it’s more than parental leave on the minds of legislators. An increasing number of cities and counties are passing versions of paid leave laws, which often vary widely in terms of usage, funding, accrual rates, etc.
These laws create additional compliance concerns for businesses, with blanket programs being expensive and inattention to local laws potentially opening the door for lawsuits.