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With contributions from Jeanne Murphy

It’s been said that many things may change us, but we start and end with family. Apparently Washington state’s legislature agrees.

Citing the need to balance the demands of the workplace with those of families, as well as to promote family stability and economic security, the legislature enacted a law creating the state’s family and medical leave insurance program on a bipartisan basis. Yes, bipartisan! And with the involvement of the businesses community.

The program generally provides for reasonable paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, the care of a family member with a serious health condition, or the employee’s own serious health condition.

Although the legislation is complex and detailed, the basics of the program are as follows:

What the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program Covers

Washington’s family and medical leave insurance program provides paid leave for the following:

  birth of a child or the adoption or placement of a child under the age of 18

  physical or psychological care of a family member with a serious health condition, including a child, grandchild, grandparent, parent, sibling or spouse

  qualifying exigency as defined by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, or military caregiver leave

  employee’s own serious health condition, including certain illnesses, injuries, impairments, and physical or mental conditions

The first three are considered family leave. The final—the employee’s own serious health condition—is medical leave.

As with the Family and Medical Leave Act, at the conclusion of this leave an employer must return the employee to the same position or an equivalent position, if all of the following are true:

  employer has 50 or more employees

  the returning employee has worked for the employer for at least 12 months

  the returning employee has worked for the employer at least 1250 hours during the last 12 months

Who the Program Covers

As an employee, you are eligible for family and medical leave benefits after working for at least 820 hours during the qualifying period, which typically includes the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters.

Generally, your eligibility expires at the end of the 12-month period beginning either on the date of birth or placement of your child—or in the case of serious health conditions, beginning on the date you file an application for leave.

Employers may seek a waiver to exclude workers who are physically located outside of Washington or who only work in the state on a limited or temporary basis, as well as those not expected to meet the 820-hour requirement. Also, employers who offer a comparable plan may request approval to opt out of Washington’s program.

Federal employees are specifically excluded.

Self-employed persons—including sole proprietors, independent contractors, partners and joint venturers—can optionally elect to be covered by the program.

How Long the Coverage Lasts: Maximum Duration in a 12-Month Period

The program establishes limits on available leave based on the underlying reason the benefits are due. It also caps the total duration for both combined family and medical leave in a 12-month period.

Reason for Benefits Maximum Leave in a 12-Month Period
Family leave, including:
 Birth, adoption or placement of a child
 Serious medical condition of a family member
12 weeks total
Family leave that includes a pregnancy resulting in incapacity Additional 2 weeks; total of 14 weeks
Medical leave including:
 Birth, adoption or placement of a child
 Serious medical condition of employee
12 weeks total
Medical leave that includes a pregnancy resulting in incapacity
Additional 2 weeks; total of 14 weeks
Combined family and medical leave
16 weeks combined total
Combined leave that includes a pregnancy resulting in incapacity Additional 2 weeks; total of 18 weeks

When the Program’s Benefits Start

Benefits are payable under the program beginning as of January 1, 2020.

There is a seven-day waiting period before benefits are payable under most circumstances. This waiting period does not apply to leave for the birth, adoption or placement of a child.

How Much the Program Pays

The program’s minimum and maximum weekly wage benefits are updated annually. For 2020, the first year benefits are available, the maximum is $1,000 and the minimum is $100.

Your exact weekly benefit is determined based on a formula that considers your average weekly wage (during the two highest quarters of your qualifying period) and Washington state’s average weekly wage.

  If your earnings are 50 percent or less of Washington’s average weekly wage, your weekly benefit is 90 percent of your own weekly wage.

  If your earnings are greater than 50 percent of the state’s average weekly wage, it’s more complicated. Your weekly benefit is 90 percent of up to 50 percent of the state’s average weekly wage plus 50 percent of your own weekly wage that is over 50 percent of the state’s average weekly wage.

How the Program is Paid For

The financial benefits of the insurance program are paid for through a combination of employee payroll deductions and employer contributions.

Beginning in 2019, the total annual premium for the insurance program is 0.4 percent of each employee’s wages up to the maximum wage amount subject to Social Security tax. Of this total premium, one third is for family leave and two thirds for medical leave.

Your employer can deduct the full amount of the family leave premium from your paycheck and up to 45 percent of the medical leave premium. If you’re self-employed and elect coverage, this is the amount you must pay.

Your employer pays the remaining 55 percent of the medical leave premium and can choose to pay all or any portion of your share of the premium.

Employers with fewer than 50 employees in Washington are not required to pay the employer portion of the premium. If they elect to do so, they are eligible for financial assistance.

Many of the details of the program are still being developed. Stay tuned.

 

 

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NATALIE NOVAK
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