Paid FMLA Rolls Out in Washington State

Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave system took effect on Jan 1, 2020. Anyone working 820 hours in a year (about 40% of a full-time, 40-hour week job) can now take leave to care for a baby or family member, with up to 90% of regular pay covered by the state of Washington. These payments are funded by payroll deductions and employer contributions that began in 2019.

The program is off to a roaring start, as the state has received more than three times the amount of applications than expected.


What’s Changed with Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave

Chances are you have been collecting premiums on behalf of your employees for more than a year now. So, nothing much changed in day-to-day procedures on Jan 1. However, now is the time that employers throughout the state will begin to see how this program actually works when an employee needs to take leave.

Employees apply with the state, not with their employer, when they need to take leave under the program. They are required to give their employer(s) 30 days notice for planned events, but unplanned events are simply “as soon as possible.” Any form of written message – even a text – counts as notice.

The employer will receive a letter once the application is approved or denied. The letter will include the date the employee applied for Paid Leave, expected start and end dates of the Paid Leave, and the date the employee provided notice to the employer.


Benefits for Small Employers

If you’re a small employer (150 employees or less), you may be wondering how to cope with the sudden departure of an employee for several weeks. Luckily, the program also includes grants to help your company cover the gap.

Each time an employee uses the program (up to 10 times per year), you may apply for:

  • $1,000 for significant wage-related costs that result from an employee being on paid leave
  • Up to $3,000 to cover the cost of hiring a temporary worker for 7 days or more while an employee is on leave

However, the Employment Security Department (ESD) website says these grants aren’t available yet, so you’ll have to apply retroactively at a later date. With “all available resources” focused on dealing with the backlog of employee claims, it’s easy to assume that employer reimbursements may be pushed back even further. There’s also mixed information from ESD as to whether small employers should contribute premium — Ask Approach is checking on this and will update you in a future post.


How Does the Paid Family and Medical Leave Work with Paid Sick Days or Time-loss?

Paid Family and Medical Leave is for times when something major keeps employees away from work. Paid sick days can be used for less serious or short-term health conditions, typically for less than a week.

With Paid Family and Medical Leave, unless the employee welcomed a new child into the family, there is a “waiting week” before receiving the benefit payment. The “waiting week” is the first week the employee is approved to file a weekly claim and they will not be paid for that week (this does not apply to leave to bond with a new child). During the waiting week, employees may use paid time off from the employer, including paid vacation or sick days, without impact to the Paid Family and Medical Leave benefits. However, employers cannot require employees to use paid sick or vacation days before using the Paid Family and Medical Leave.

In addition, employees cannot receive any other wages once the Paid Family and Medical Leave benefits begin. This includes unemployment and time-loss benefits.


What’s Next with Paid Family and Medical Leave?

As you can tell, there are more questions than answers with this new program right now. Approach will continue working with our employment law and HR partners to find new information and share it throughout the year. You can also ask the HR Help Desk if you have a specific question about the program or an employee who wishes to use leave.

All Things HR also recommends downloading the Employer Toolkit from https://paidleave.wa.gov/employers/. This document won’t have all the answers, but it is being regularly updated by ESD and contains much of the latest guidance available.


We’ll have future Ask Approach posts on Paid Family and Medical Leave, plus more at our Brain Trusts in 2020, especially as we get more guidance on how this new law interacts with L&I and workers’ comp.