Washington Enacts Paid Family and Medical Leave Program

July 11, 2017

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has signed legislation to provide a paid family and medical leave program in the state. The required leave will be in place by 2020.

S.B. 5975 creates the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program, which will provide everyone in the workforce with up to 12 weeks of paid medical leave, and up to 12 weeks paid time off to care for a new child or an ailing family member. That leave is capped at 16 weeks if the employee needs both types of time off in a one-year period. Women who experience pregnancy complications may receive an additional two weeks of leave.

Depending on earnings, employees will receive up to 90 percent of their wage or salary or up to $1,000 per week during their leave. Employees become eligible for the program after working 820 hours.

The new program will give workers more time to spend with their newborns, which research shows has long-term physical, emotional and social benefits for children, better preparing them for school, said paid family leave advocate Marilyn Watkins, executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute. The program will also give people more time to care for an aging loved one, and give families more time to respond to unexpected medical crises.

“We really do expect there to be widespread benefits for everyone in our state,” Watkins said. “It’s portable as people move between jobs. The benefit structure is designed to make sure it’s affordable for people on every income level. ... There are ways to help businesses continue to thrive and do well and prosper with this program in place.”

The cost of the new program will be shared between the employer and the employee through a payroll tax. Workers will pay 63 percent and employers will pay 37 percent of the premiums, but the employer could decide to pay more. For example, a full-time worker earning $15 dollars an hour would contribute $1.51 a week toward the benefit while the employer would pay 89 cents.

Businesses with fewer than 50 employees will not be required to pay the employer share of the premium, but those businesses can still opt in. Businesses with fewer than 150 employees who pay into the program are eligible for grants of $1,000 to $3,000 each to cover the cost of an employee on leave.