OLYMPIA – Washingtonians now have access to the most generous Paid Family and Medical Leave program in the U.S. Nearly all workers in this state, including part- and full-time, may be able to take up to 12 weeks to care for themselves or a family member through a serious illness or injury, to bond with a new child coming into the home and for certain service-connected events for military families. Between 16 and 18 weeks is available in some circumstances. Applications for leave can now be filed with the Employment Security Department, with benefits payable from Jan. 1, 2020.
“For the first time in this state, millions of workers will have access to paid leave when they need it most,” said the Employment Security Department Commissioner, Suzi LeVine. “Whether it is caring for a spouse receiving cancer treatment, recovering from surgery or welcoming a new child into the family, this program will have a profound and positive impact on the state of wellbeing for the state of Washington.”
To be eligible, an employee must work 820 hours, approximately 16 hours per week, over the course of about a year and experience a qualifying event. A small premium funds the program and is shared by workers and many employers. When a worker goes on leave, they receive partial wage replacement. The benefit is based on income and can cover up to 90 percent of a worker’s typical wage.
Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program is groundbreaking in a number of ways and was developed to work for both employees and their employers. Created through a bipartisan effort in the state Legislature in 2017, business, labor and family advocates all played an active role in the drafting and passage of the legislation.
Washington’s program has one of the highest rates of wage replacement in the nation and some of the most generous weeks of leave allowable. Small business owners are exempt from paying the employer portion of the premium but collect their employees’ portion so they are still fully covered by the program. There are also grants available to businesses of up to 150 employees to offset the cost of a worker being out on leave, including grants to hire a temporary replacement or to cover training or overtime related to an employee being out on Paid Family and Medical Leave.
Leave does not have to be taken all at once, for example a worker could take one day a week to care for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease. The definition of a family member is broad, covering siblings and grandparents as well as grandchildren, step and foster children.
“A paycheck is essential, but time to care for yourself and your family is irreplaceable,” LeVine said. “Paid Family and Medical Leave means Washingtonians won’t have to choose between the two, and employers won’t have to lose workers when life happens.”
The program’s website, paidleave.wa.gov, has information to learn more about the program as well as resources to help Washingtonians apply for Paid Family and Medical Leave. There are tools to evaluate eligibility, estimate your weekly pay and to step through a checklist to get ready to apply. Tools and information for employers can be found on the employer page of the website.