Washington: State Enacts Job-Protected, Paid Family and Medical Leave

APPLIES TO

All Employers with WA Employees

EFFECTIVE

January 1, 2019

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As of July 5, 2017, Washington joins a few other states in requiring job-protected, paid family and medical leave.  Senate Bill 5975 implements the new leave, providing some of the highest income replacement benefits in the nation. Employees may use this leave for the serious health condition of an employee or a family member; the birth, adoption, or placement of a child; or for a qualifying exigency under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).

The program will be funded by both employer and employee payroll deductions; however, employers of fewer than 50 employees are not required to pay the employer portion of premiums. Payroll deductions begin on January 1, 2019, and the benefit becomes available for use on January 1, 2020.

Key provisions of the new program include:

  • Who it covers:
    • Employees: Any employee who works at least 820 hours during a “qualifying period,” consisting of the first four quarters of the last five completed calendar quarters, or the last four completed calendar quarters immediately preceding the application for leave. Employers may seek a waiver for specific employees if the employee’s worksite is not based in Washington, or if they work in Washington on a temporary or limited schedule of less than 820 hours within the qualifying period.
    • Employers: The bill covers all employers; however, employers may opt out of the program if they offer a comparable plan and pay a $250 assessment fee to determine if the plan is truly comparable.
    • Collective Bargaining Agreements: The requirements of the leave do not apply to existing CBAs until the agreement is reopened, renegotiated, or expires.  After January 1, 2020, any CBA cannot diminish the benefits available to employees under the statewide program.
  • Amount of leave available: Employees may take:
    • 12 weeks of family or medical leave
    • 14 weeks of family or medical leave if the employee experiences a serious health condition related to pregnancy that incapacitates the employee
    • 16 weeks combined family and medical leave
    • 18 weeks combined family and medical leave if the employee experiences a serious health condition related to pregnancy that incapacitates the employee
  • Waiting period: Seven days to use benefits, except if leave is taken for birth or placement of a child.
  • Wage replacement benefit: Up to 90% of the employee’s average weekly wage, depending on the employee’s average weekly wage compared to the state average weekly wage.
  • Job protection: Employees returning from leave must be restored to the same or an equivalent position, and previously accrued benefits must remain available to the employee.
  • Small business assistance: Employers of fewer than 150 employees may receive grants to offset wage costs while an employee is on leave.

Though there is quite a bit of time before the program officially begins, employers may wish to begin reviewing handbooks and internal payroll and leave of absence procedures to prepare for the program.  The Commissioner of the Washington State Employment Security Department is expected to develop and publish additional rules for implementing the new law.

Action Items

  1. Review Senate Bill 5975 online here.
  2. Look for updates from ManagEase as the implementation rules become available.
  3. Subscribers can call our HR On-Call Hotline at (888) 378-2456 for further assistance.

Disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance concerning employment-related issues. It is presented with the understanding that ManagEase is not engaged in rendering any legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please contact the services of your own legal adviser.

© 2017 ManagEase, Incorporated.

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