Beginning January 1, 2020, Washington employees will have access to the benefits of Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave (“WPFML”) law, administered by the Washington Employment Security Department (“ESD”). Nearly all Washington employees will be eligible, with limited exceptions for self-employed, federal, and tribal employees, as well as employees who perform only occasional and incidental work in Washington.

The WPFML program is similar to worker’s compensation in that employers and employees pay premiums to ESD, and ESD administers and pays the actual benefits to eligible employees.  As of January 1st, covered employees who have worked at least 820 hours in Washington during either the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters or the most recent four completed calendar quarters will be eligible for WPFML benefits.  In contrast to federal FMLA leave requirements, those 820 hours do not need to be at the employee’s current employer; rather, they need only be with any employer in Washington.

If the employee meets the minimum hour requirements, he or she may apply to ESD for WPFML benefits for Family Leave (bonding with the employee’s child after birth, adoption, or foster placement; caring for a family member with a serious health condition; or leave for military exigency purposes akin to the federal FMLA) or Medical Leave (for the employee’s own serious health condition).  An employee may be eligible for up to 12 weeks of benefits for either Family Leave or Medical Leave or up to 16 weeks of benefits for a combination of Family Leave and Medical Leave.  Employees who experience an incapacitating health condition resulting from pregnancy are allowed an additional 2 weeks of benefits, up to a maximum of 18 weeks. ESD benefits will represent a specified percentage of the employee’s wages, up to a maximum of $1,000/week.  There is a 7-day waiting period for collection of benefits, with the exception of Family Leave for child bonding.

Employers’ responsibilities related to WPFM include the following:

  • Premiums & Quarterly Reports — The employer is required to collect and pay premiums representing .4% of employees’ wages. Employers must either pay themselves or collect from employees’ paychecks the Employee Portion: 63.333% of the premium, which may be deducted from employees’ paychecks.  Employers with more than 50 employees must pay the Employer Portion (36.667% of the premium). Employers with fewer than 50 employees need not pay the Employer Portion, but still must either pay or collect from employees the Employee Portion.  These premiums must be submitted to ESD quarterly, accompanied by quarterly reports.
  • Notice to Employees — The employer is responsible for putting up a workplace poster explaining WPFML benefits. If an employee goes out on leave for 7 consecutive days for a reason potentially covered by WPFML, the employer must notify the employee of the ability to apply for WPFML benefits.
  • Job Protection & Benefits Continuation Under Certain Circumstances — The employer must hold open the employee’s job (or an equivalent position) and maintain medical benefits if the employer has at least 50 employees, the employee has worked at least 12 months for that employer, and the employee has worked at least 1,250 hours in those 12 months preceding the leave. Federal FMLA can run concurrently with WPFML where applicable.  Employers cannot mandate that employees apply for WPFML benefits or use paid leave prior to or in conjunction with collecting WPFML benefits (though employees may elect to do so).