Paid family, medical leave is coming to Washington state

By Diana Carlen
WAWG Lobbyist

In 2017, the Washington Legislature passed a bipartisan bill creating a new Paid Family & Medical Leave Program. Agencies are continuing to work on rules to implement the new law, but parts of the law come into effect on Jan. 1, 2019. The law creates a statewide insurance program that lets employees get partial wage replacement while on leave. Eligible employees can to take up to 12 weeks (or 18 weeks in certain cases) of paid leave for a “qualifying event,” including: recovering from illness or injury, bonding with a new child, taking care of sick or injured family members or certain military-connected events. Most employers and employees, including those in agriculture, are required to participate in the program. 

Here are a few things you should know about the Paid Family & Medical Leave Program (PFMLP):

• Starting Jan. 1, 2019, employers are required to withhold premiums (0.4 percent of gross wages) and remit them to PFMLP, regardless of the number of hours an employee worked.

-Both employers and employees contribute to the total cost of the premium, with employees contributing up to 63 percent of the total premium, and employers contributing the remaining 37 percent. 

-Small employers (those with less than 50 employees) are not required to pay the employer portion of the premium, but still must withhold and remit the employee portion.

-There is a small business assistance grant program to help cover the cost of hiring temporary replacement employees, up to $3,000 renewable up to 10 times per year per employer. However, small employers must pay the employer contribution to qualify. 

• Employees cannot collect benefits until Jan. 1, 2020. To qualify, an employee must work at least 820 hours in the qualifying period (the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters or the last four completed quarters) and have a qualifying event. 

-If an employee’s qualifying event is foreseeable (such as a planned surgery or childbirth), the employee must give their employer 30-days notice before taking leave.

• Employers also have quarterly reporting requirements. Employers will need to track employee wages, hours and other employee information and report to the Employment Security Department each quarter starting in Quarter 1 of 2019 (January 1 to March 31). The Quarter 1 reports are due April 30, 2019.

• Employers with 50 or more employees are required to restore returning employees to their previous position or to a position with equivalent pay, benefits and employment conditions.

• PFMLP does not apply to federal and tribal employees, self-employed people (including independent contractors) and workers that typically work out of state. Self-employed people and tribes can choose to opt into the state program.

• Workers under collective bargaining agreements may have delayed participation in PFMLP. 

As an example for premiums, if a qualifying employee is paid $10,000 a year, the total annual premium for the program would be $40 ($10,000 x 0.4 percent). Of that, $25.20 would come from withheld employee wages (63 percent employee contribution), and $14.80 would come from the employer (37 percent employer contribution). A small employer would only need to withhold and remit the employee portion of the premium.

Employers can apply for a premium waiver in certain cases, generally when the employee usually works out of state. A premium waiver may be granted when the employee usually does their work out of state, they only work in Washington on a temporary schedule and they are not expected to work in state for 820 hours or more. 

Employers that want to manage their own paid family and medical leave plan can apply to the Employment Security Department to have a voluntary plan approved, though employers will still need to comply with quarterly reporting requirements. Voluntary plans must meet or exceed the benefits offered under the state plan.

Washington Association of Wheat Growers members should be ready to begin collecting premiums, budget for the employer share of premiums (if necessary) and be ready to track information for quarterly reporting by Jan. 1, 2019. More information on the Washington Paid Family & Medical Leave Program website.