August 30, 2017

Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave Act (SB 5975)

Background on Act:

The Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave Act goes into effect October 19, 2017. Benefits are available January 1, 2020. Most employers are covered under the Act where employers and employees share in funding the paid leave benefit program through payroll deductions. The total premium is 0.4% of an employee’s wages. Employers may deduct 100% of family leave premiums and up to 45% of medical leave premiums from an employee’s wages. Employers are responsible for paying the remaining 55% of medical leave premiums. Payroll deductions begin on January 1, 2019 and benefits are available on January 1, 2020.

Eligible employees can use their benefits for the birth or adoption of a child during the first 12 months after the child’s birth, the serious medical condition of the employee or the employee’s family member; or a qualifying exigency as permitted under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

Details of the Change:

An employer may elect to pay all the premiums. The amount of wages subject to a premium assessment is capped at the maximum wages subject to social security tax.

Here is a summary of the changes impacting employees:

  • A “qualifying period” is the first 4 quarters of the last 5 completed calendar quarters or, if eligibility is not established, the last 4 completed calendar quarters immediately preceding the application for leave.
  • The maximum weekly benefit is $1,000 except that the commissioner will adjust the maximum weekly benefit amount to 90% of the state average weekly wage by September 30, 2020 and each subsequent September 30th.
  • A conditional waiver for the payment of family and medical leave premiums expires if the employee works 820 hours or more in a qualifying period.
  • Certain employees returning from leave are entitled to be returned to the same or an equivalent position. The same employee’s previously accrued benefits must remain available to the employee.
  • Parties to a collective bargaining agreement are not required to reopen negotiations or apply the rights and responsibilities of the law until the existing agreement is reopened, renegotiated, or expires.
  • After January 1, 2020, a collective bargaining agreement cannot diminish the benefits available to employees under the state law.
  • If an employee is taking paid leave for the birth or placement of a child, and the need for leave is foreseeable, the employee must provide his or her employer with at least 30 days’ advance notice of the intention to take leave or as soon as possible.

Impacts to the Employer:

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.

The employer is prohibited from retaliating against any employee for exercising rights under the law or opposing any unlawful practices. For a $250 fee, an employer may opt out of the program and apply to the commissioner for approval of a voluntary plan for the payment of family leave benefits and/or medical leave benefits. Small employers (those with 150 employees or less) may receive grants to offset wage costs while an employee is on leave. An employer must provide its employees with a model written notice of the employee’s rights under the law whenever an eligible employee is absent from work to provide care for a family member, or takes medical leave for more than 7 consecutive days. Employers must post a notice in the workplace summarizing the paid family and medical leave program.

For More Information:

For further insights into this Act, view the following links:

Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave Act (SB 5975)

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