Washington Employers: Prepare for Paid Family Leave Law

Washington State passed legislation to create a paid family and medical leave program last year. Under the law, eligible employees will be entitled to paid leave for up to 12 weeks for their own serious health condition or for family care, up to 16 weeks combined medical and family leave, and up to 2 additional weeks for qualifying pregnancy / childbirth complications.

The paid family and medical leave program is an insurance program administered by ESD and funded through premium payments. Although employees cannot take leave until January 1, 2020, premium payments begin on January 1, 2019. Employers may deduct up to 100 percent of the premiums for family leave from the employee’s paycheck and up to 45 percent of the premiums for medical leave. The employer is responsible for paying the remaining 55 percent of the premiums for medical leave. Employers may elect to pay all of the premiums.

The program applies to all private and most public employers in Washington, with the following limitations:
• Employers with fewer than 50 workers are not required to pay the employer share of premiums, but they must still report employee wages and hours. They must also remit all premiums collected from employees to the state.
• Employees covered by collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in effect prior to October 19, 2017 are exempt until the CBA expires or is renegotiated.
• Employers may operate their own leave program so long as they provide a comparable voluntary plan of equal value through local carriers.

Employers that have a leave program in place or wish to offer one, must apply for approval of their voluntary plan with ESD. Applications for voluntary plans must be approved by December 31, 2018 to avoid paying premiums starting in January 2019. The application fee for each voluntary plan is $250.00. Employers can apply for approval online at https://paidleave.wa.gov/voluntary-plan-application.

Finally, employers with 150 or fewer employees and those employers with 50 or fewer employees who elect to pay all premiums are eligible for grants to defer certain costs incurred as a result of an employee taking leave.

We will post on other aspects of the law as the rulemaking process continues. In the meantime, if you have questions about your obligations under Washington’s paid family and medical leave law, please contact a member of Sussman Shank’s Employment Group at 503-227-1111.

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