Washington’s paid family and medical leave program works like insurance. Workers and their employers have begun paying a small premium with each paycheck. Workers receive a benefit from the state when they need family leave or extended medical leave.
An employee can take up to 12 weeks of paid family leave, which includes caring for a newborn, foster placement or newly adopted child or a family member with a serious health condition. Family members include spouse, domestic partner, parent, parent-in-law, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, or child of any age. Workers can also take time to be with a family member injured in military service, or to deal with exigencies of military deployment
An employee can take up to 12 weeks of paid medical leave, which can only be used for the employee’s own serious health condition, with an additional 2 weeks for a complication related to pregnancy. The total combined leave a worker can take in a year is 16 weeks, or 18 weeks if it includes a pregnancy-related complication
The benefits for employees are progressive, based on weekly wages, and top off at $1,000 per week. For example, someone earning $540 per week at minimum wage would get a weekly benefit of $486 (90 percent); someone earning $54,000 per year ($1,040 per week) would have a weekly benefit of $771 (74 percent); and someone making $85,000 per year ($1,635 per week) would have a weekly benefit of $1,000 (61 percent).
Everyone who worked at least 820 hours in the previous year is covered, except federal employees, some Tribal employees, and workers covered by collective bargaining agreements negotiated before October 2017.
Additionally, paid family and medical leave is fully portable between jobs, including periods between jobs. For example, a construction worker who moves from job to job could schedule a surgery for after the current job ends. Self-employed people and contract workers may opt in for 3-year minimums.
Our new law makes paid family and medical leave affordable for Washington employees and business owners, paid for by payroll premiums. Workers pay 63 percent of the weekly premium, with employers contributing 37 percent. So someone working full-time at minimum wage contributes $1.36 per week, and the employer pays $0.80 per week. Someone making $54,000 per year pays $2.62 per week, and the employer $1.54; and someone making $85,000 per year pays $4.12 per week, and the employer $2.42. Companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from paying the employer share, but their employees still pay the same rate.
The state government has a premium calculator here.
Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not required to pay the employer share of premiums, but may choose to do so to be eligible for small business assistance funds. Companies with fewer than 150 employees that pay employer premiums may apply for $3,000 to cover costs of training new replacement workers, or up to $1,000 for other costs (such as overtime of training a current employee for additional work) of covering work when someone is out on leave. Companies that temporarily hire replacement workers will not be charged higher unemployment insurance rates if that temporary worker applies for unemployment, and companies may opt to provide their own benefits of equal length and at least equal financial compensation and apply for a waiver from the state program.
At some point in their life, everyone needs to take extended time away from work to care for themselves or a loved one, whether for a new child, a car accident, or a medical emergency. With paid family and medical leave, Washington workers are able to take 12 weeks of paid family leave for maternity/paternity leave or to take care of a loved one, and 12 weeks of paid medical leave to take care of their own health emergencies, with up to two weeks of additional time for pregnancy-related conditions. It helps ensure every Washington child has a solid foundation for lifelong health, learning, and opportunity, and support health, healing, and dignity across the lifespan.
With paid family leave, new mothers are able to stay home with their children for up to 12 weeks. Paid family leave improves maternal health and also allows new fathers time to bond, with lasting positive benefits for the child and family. Women in states with paid leave programs are more likely to be working a year following childbirth, less likely to go on public assistance, and earn more than women in other states.1 Paid family leave in Washington also means adult children can take time to care for parents, in-laws, or grandparents. It can mean the difference between a quick recovery at home or an extended stay in an expensive nursing facility for seniors.
Paid family and medical leave provides insurance so the employers don’t have to cover the full cost of an employee’s leave themselves, and exempts businesses with fewer than 50 employees from paying premiums. That allows smaller companies to better compete, and gives them the flexibility to add hours for other employees or bring on additional help when someone goes out on leave. The cost is low and predictable from year to year. Employees are more likely to come back to work when they are ready to focus and be fully productive, and with peace of mind morale goes up, too.2 Our new Washington paid family and medical leave program lifts up workers, businesses, and seniors, and help build thriving and healthy communities for us all.
For a one-page summary PDF, please click here.
- “The Effects of California’s Paid Family Leave Program on Mothers’ Leave-Taking and Subsequent Labor Market Outcomes.” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 17715. December 2011.
- “Policy Matters: Public Policy, Paid Leave for Parents, and Economic Security for U.S. Workers.” Center for Women and Work, Rutgers. April 2012.