We heard from several clients last week in response to a postcard about Washington Paid Family & Medical Leave. The man on the postcard is smiling, but anything labeled “Premium collection begins…” is bound to scare business owners. Here’s a closer look at the new law and how it’s different from workers’ comp.

What is Washington Paid Family & Medical Leave?
According to the Employment Security Department (ESD), this new program provides almost every employee in Washington state with paid family and medical leave. Every employee, and most employers, will pay insurance premiums to the state, which employees can then claim for up to 12 weeks of leave, either for their own illness or to care for their newborn or a sick relative. Washington is one of just five states to have a program like this.

Is this another L&I program?
No, this new program will be run by the Employment Security Department and is completely separate from the workers’ comp program run by L&I. It’s not yet clear how this new program might impact workers’ comp benefits, but there are some potential conflicts.

For instance, time-loss benefits under workers’ comp don’t begin until three days after the injury, but claims for Paid Family & Medical Leave can be made after the first day off work. We will update you with future blog posts once we have some clear guidance on issues such as this.

Is my company affected?
Basically, yes. According to the ESD, every employer in Washington must collect premium from their employees and file paperwork, so your payroll and HR processes will need to be updated.

The ESD website does list some breaks for small businesses:
• Companies with less than 50 employees don’t have to pay the employer portion of premium.
• Companies with less than 150 employees can claim grants of up to $3,000, up to ten times a year, to cover the cost of temporary staff while an employee is off on paid medical leave. But, companies with less than 50 employees must pay the employer premium to claim these grants.

And, the ESD states that workplaces under a Collective Bargaining Agreement do not have to implement paid family and medical leave until the Collective Bargaining Agreement is renegotiated.

Can we opt-out?
The ESD website describes a voluntary program in which employers can apply to operate their own paid family and medical leave program. But, any voluntary program must meet or exceed the coverage provided by the state program. And, the ESD states that voluntary programs must be re-approved annually for the first three years.

The short answer is that you cannot opt-out without offering your own program that is equal to or better than the state program.

How do we find out more?
We had a representative from the Employment Security Department host a free webinar to our clients. Please click here to log into the Approach Client Portal to view the webinar.