Bipartisan efforts led to the passage of a paid family and medical leave law, signed by Governor Inslee on July 6. Washington is one of only a handful of states to offer such a program. The paid leave will be funded through weekly paycheck contributions made by both employers and employees (similar to Social Security), and the program will be administered by the state.

Beginning in 2020, an eligible employee can take up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, which can be used to care for a newborn or newly-adopted child, the employee’s own serious health condition, or to care for a family member with a serious health condition. The employee can also take paid leave to be with a family member injured in military service, or to deal with exigencies of military deployment. The employee will receive an additional 2 weeks for a complication related to pregnancy. The total combined paid leave an employee can take in a year (for family care and for care of him or herself) is 16 weeks, or 18 weeks if it includes a pregnancy-related complication.

Weekly leave benefits are calculated based on a percentage of the employee’s wages and the state’s weekly average wage (currently $1,082), though the maximum weekly amount is capped at $1,000 a week. Any employee who earns less than the state average would get 90 percent of his or her income per week. To qualify for paid leave under this program, employees must have worked (for any employer) at least 820 hours in the preceding 12 months.

The new paid leave program will be financed by a 0.4 percent deduction from pretax wages. Both employees and larger employers will make regular payroll contributions – 63 percent to be paid by employees, and 37 percent to be paid by employers with 50 or more employees. Employers with 50 or fewer employees are exempt from paying the employer share. Self-employed people and contract workers may opt in with a three year commitment, and will pay only the employee share of the premiums. Companies that already offer paid leave programs can opt out, so long as the benefits are at least equivalent to the state’s minimum requirements.

Employees and employers will begin paying into the state system as of January 1, 2019, but employees will not be able to take paid leave until January 2020.

For more information on Washington’s leave laws, please contact Foster Pepper’s Employment, Labor and Benefits group.