March 5, 2020

Updates: Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave Program

The state of Washington enacted a Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) law in 2017.  For a background summary, see our prior Benefit Beat article, Washington Enacts Paid Family and Medical Leave Program.  Funding for the law began in 2019 and paid leave benefits began January 1, 2020.

The law was amended in 2019 to clarify an employee’s ability to supplement PFML benefits; the waiting period; and matters relating to the voluntary plan. Following is a brief summary of the amendments to the law.

Covered Employer

All Washington employers, except for the federal government, are required to provide paid family and medical leave benefits.

Eligible Employee

An employee is eligible for the PFML benefit after working at least 820 hours in a qualifying period. A qualifying period means the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters; or, if eligibility is not established, the last four completed calendar quarters immediately preceding the application for leave.

Use of Leave

Beginning January 1, 2020, a qualified employee is entitled to a maximum combined amount of leave of up to 16 weeks per year, in accordance with the following limits and reasons for leave:

  • Up to 12 weeks of family leave for a family member’s serious health condition; baby bonding; or qualifying exigency relating to a family member’s military service as defined by the FMLA.  For this purpose, a family member includes a child (biological, adopted, foster, or step or a child to whom the employee stands in loco parentis, is a legal guardian, or is a de facto parent), grandchild, grandparent, parent, sibling, or spouse of an employee.
  • Up to 12 weeks of medical leave due to the employee’s own serious health condition.

In the event an employee experiences a pregnancy-related serious health condition resulting in incapacity, the employee is entitled to 14 weeks of family or medical leave, not to exceed a combined total of 18 weeks of family and medical leave in a year.

Benefit Availability and Amount

Benefits begin following the filing of an application filed with the state by the employee, and a waiting period consisting of the first seven consecutive calendar days.  However, there is no waiting period if leave is taken for the birth or placement of a child.

The weekly benefit amount may be up to 90% of the employee’s average weekly wage up to a maximum cap of $1,000 for 2020.   Certain other limits apply to higher earners.  In any week in which an employee is eligible to receive benefits under applicable federal or state unemployment compensation, industrial insurance, or disability insurance laws, the employee is disqualified from receiving PFML benefits.

Supplemental Benefits

An employer may offer supplemental benefit payments to an employee on family or medical leave in addition to any paid family or medical leave benefits the employee is receiving.  Supplemental benefit payments include vacation, sick, or other paid time off. It is the employee’s choice whether to take any supplemental coverage offered by the employer to subsidize the Washington PFML benefit.

Funding, Reporting and Payment of Premium

For the period beginning January 1, 2019 and ending December 31, 2020, the total premium rate for the program is 0.4% of an employee’s gross wages, with the employer paying 36.67% and the employee paying 63.33%. The premium amount may be adjusted annually, beginning January 1, 2021, by the Employment Security Department.  Small employers who employ fewer than 50 employees can opt out.

Every quarter, employers are required to complete and file a report, together with payment of premiums to the Employment Security Department through the “SecureAccessWashington” (SAW) portal.  The type of information required to be submitted includes basic details about the employer and its workforce, each employee’s total hours worked and wages paid, and the employer’s quarterly premium payment.

Employers may seek a waiver of the premium requirement for employees physically based outside Washington, employed in Washington on a limited or temporary schedule, and not expected to work in Washington for 820 or more hours in a qualifying period.

Job Protection

An employee returning from leave is entitled to be returned to the same or an equivalent position.  Generally, benefits accrued as of the date the leave begins must be restored upon return to work.  To the extent that the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies, health benefits must be continued for the duration of the leave in accordance with the provisions of the FMLA.

Notice Obligations

Employee notice requirements.  When the need for leave is foreseeable, employees are required to provide written notice of the need for leave to the employer at least 30 days in advance.  When the leave is unforeseeable, the employee must notify the employer as soon as possible.

Employer notice requirements

  • Employers are required to display a workplace notice in their employment locations where other employment-related posters are customarily displayed. The state’s Employment Security Department provides a model workplace poster (available in English and Spanish) that can be used for this purpose.
  • In addition, when an employer becomes aware of an employee’s absence from work due to care for a family member or to attend to the employee’s own health condition for more than seven consecutive days, the employer is required to provide a written notice to the individual to notify him/her that he/she may qualify for PFML benefit. This notice must be provided within five business days of the employee's seventh consecutive day of absence, or, after the employer has received notice that the employee's absence is due to care of a family member, whichever is later. The state provides a model notice that can be used for this purpose.

Coordination with an Employer’s existing plan

Employers may opt out of the PFML program if they have a comparable paid family and medical leave program in place, referred to as a voluntary plan.  However, the employer’s program must be evaluated by the Department to ensure it is truly comparable, together with payment of a $250 fee for the review.

An employee who had coverage under the state plan retains coverage under the state plan until such time as the employee is qualified for coverage under the new employer's voluntary plan. An employee may only receive payment of benefits for family leave, medical leave, or both from one approved plan at a time.

An employee qualifies for benefits under an employer's voluntary plan after the employee works at least 340 hours for the current employer.  An employer with an approved voluntary plan may waive this requirement in whole or in part to allow an employee to be immediately eligible for coverage under the employer's voluntary plan.

Coordination with other leave laws

Leave taken pursuant to this state law runs concurrently with other permitted leave laws such as the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

Enforcement and Internet Resources

The state’s Employment Security Department enforces the provisions of this law. Additional information for both employees and employer’s is available from the Department’s dedicated webpage.  Of particular note for employers is an Employer Toolkit which provides information about how to calculate and collect premiums, submitting quarterly reports, and employee notification obligations, together with sample communications that can be shared with employees.

The information contained in this article is provided as general guidance and may be affected by changes in law or regulation. This article is not intended to replace or substitute for accounting or other professional advice. Please consult a CBIZ professional. This information is provided as-is with no warranties of any kind. CBIZ shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever in connection with its use and assumes no obligation to inform the reader of any changes in laws or other factors that could affect the information contained herein.

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