As employers and employees are aware, the new Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave program is currently being funded by premiums, paid by Washington employees and (many) Washington employers. While employees are not yet able to take advantage of these leave benefits, the state will begin accepting applications for the program starting January 1, 2020. The Employment Security Department (or “ESD”) is the agency responsible for reviewing, processing, and paying (or denying) these benefits.
Not every medical condition or leave need will be covered by the new paid benefit law, however. To be eligible for benefits, an employee must have a “qualifying event”. A qualifying event may include the employee’s need for leave to care for the employee’s own serious health condition; leave to care for the serious health condition of the employee’s family member; leave to care for and bond with the employee’s baby or a child younger than 18 placed with the employee through foster care or adoption; or leave for certain military-related events. A “serious health condition” includes a physical or mental condition that requires hospitalization and/or ongoing treatment by a health care provider. (Less serious health conditions, such as the common cold or flu, routine medical exams, etc. will continue to be covered by Washington’s Paid Sick Leave law implemented in 2018.) “Family Member” is broadly defined as the employee’s child, spouse, registered domestic partner, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, grandchild or sibling.
Employees will be entitled to up to 12 weeks of paid leave benefits for a qualifying family leave need (to care for family members, bonding leave or military leave needs); up to 12 weeks for the employee’s own qualifying serious health condition (or up to 14 weeks if the employee is disabled as a result of pregnancy); or up to 16 weeks of leave benefits in a single claim year for a combination of qualifying family and employee medical leave needs (or up to 18 weeks if the employee experiences a pregnancy-related disabling condition). The benefits paid to the employee will be a percentage of the employee’s average weekly wage (and not a dollar-for-dollar replacement). The maximum weekly benefit an employee can receive is $1,000 per week. State rules will permit employees to tap into employer-provided paid leave benefits, such as vacation, sick leave or PTO to supplement their state-provided benefits.
Once an employee’s leave has concluded, the employee will be entitled to job restoration if the employee works for an employer with 50 or more employees, has been employed with the employer for 12 months or more, and has worked 1,250 hours in the year to date before the employee’s first day of leave.
To learn more about the new Paid Family and Medical Leave program, check out the ESD website here: https://paidleave.wa.gov/ and join us for our webinars throughout 2019 – including our upcoming 90-minute presentation on October 17, 2019 at 10:00 am!