Paid Family & Medical Leave in Washington Factsheet

For a PDF, click here.

Since benefits began in January 2020, 170,000 Washington workers have applied for Paid Family & Medical Leave program (PFML) benefits while they recover from their own serious health condition, welcome a new child, care for a critically ill loved one, or cope with a family member’s military deployment. PFML supports health and economic security even in ordinary times, and has provided especially important support to working families and their employers through the extraordinary times of this COVID crisis.

How it works: When workers have a qualifying event, they apply to the state for benefits. They can take up to 12 weeks leave in a year, 16 weeks if combining medical and family leave (18 weeks with a serious pregnancy-related complication). Low-wage workers receive 90% wage replacement, with a sliding scale up to $1,206 a week in 2021.

Financing: Workers and employers contribute payroll premiums totaling 0.4%. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not required to pay the employer share (0.15% of payroll), but may in order to qualify for small business grants when an employee goes out on leave.

Actuarial analysis has confirmed that the payroll tax rate will remain at 0.4% in 2021, even with higher than projected usage in the first year and the impacts of the COVID recession on premiums.

Background: In 2017, Washington’s Legislature passed what at the time was the best PFML program in the country. The final policy was negotiated at a bipartisan table with business and working family representatives, after years of advocacy by the Work & Family Coalition. Six other states operate similar programs (CA, NJ, RI, NY, DC, MA), and three states are implementing new programs (OR, CT, CO.)

COVID highlights the importance of key changes for equitable access

Washington’s PFML program makes workers, families, and businesses healthier and more resilient. But lower wage workers and BIPOC workers often face barriers to fully using the program. We can improve health outcomes and economic vitality for all our communities with these priority equity changes:

  • Change qualifying hours to align with OR – with 2020 reduced hours and layoffs, many won’t meet the 820 hour qualifying threshold in 2021. WA imposes a higher threshold than 8 of the 9 other state programs. OR requires $1,000 in earnings; CA, with the oldest program, requires just $300.
  • Expand family definition to include those with a close association equivalent to family. Families all look different, and our society benefits when loved ones provide care for someone who is critically ill. NJ, OR, CT, and CO all have this more inclusive family definition.
  • Expand job protection and continuation of health benefits to any employee who has been on the job for 90 days. Now only employers with more than 50 employees are required to hold jobs and continue health insurance, and only for employees who have been with them a full year and worked at least 1,250 hours the previous year. Disturbingly, only 20% of program users are from companies with fewer than 50 employees, although they make up 33% of covered workers, and only 6% of program users have earnings below $26,000 annually. Every other state program has much more extensive job protection requirements, and all but CT also require expanded continuation of health insurance.

A pandemic is no time to lose health insurance or risk your job!

Get the Scoop!: The Business of Paid Family and Medical Leave

Seattle Ice Cream GraphicMomsRising and Molly Moon invite you to join other leaders for an important, bipartisan discussion on paid family and medical leave.

Join business, elected, and community leaders, along with local families, to talk about this important issue and how it impacts our businesses, families, and our communities. Enjoy Molly Moon’s homemade ice cream and appetizers!

Full details and RSVP here »

New Study Shows Strong Support for Paid Family & Medical Leave in Washington

A newly-released study shows strong public support for a new comprehensive paid family and medical leave program, and new cost estimates show it’s easy and affordable for workers and employers. In response, state legislators and community leaders are announcing their commitment to pursue paid family and medical leave legislation in the coming legislative session.

The study, funded by a U.S. Department of Labor grant to the State of Washington, shows:

  • Three-in-four Washington voters support a state paid family and medical leave program, with strong support across party identification, gender, age, and income.
  • Strong majorities of voters favor a comprehensive program which shares minimal costs for employees and employers.
  • Analysis shows paid family and medical leave to care for a new child, seriously ill family member, or a worker’s own serious health condition would cost a typical worker $2 or less each week, and that such a program would reduce the use of state assistance by new parents and save the state money.

“I’ve been listening to my constituents all summer and fall – there’s a growing sense of urgency,” said Rep. June Robinson (38th LD – Everett). “Our families are paying too high a price now. It’s time to move forward with paid family and medical leave. I’ll continue conversations with my colleagues and stakeholders over the next few weeks and have a bill ready the first week of session.”

“We had bipartisan support on paid family leave in the Senate a decade ago,” said Sen. Karen Keiser (33rd LD – Des Moines). “Since then, we’ve learned even more about how important those first months of a child’s life are to her whole future, and have been searching for smart ways to deal with caring for our aging population. Folks on both sides of the aisle care about these issues.”

With such strong support from state voters, the Washington Work and Family Coalition is planning to push for a new paid family and medical leave policy in Olympia this session.

“We’ve seen from experience in other states that these programs work to improve maternal and infant health, boost gender wage equity, and support thriving small businesses,” said Marilyn Watkins, policy director for the Economic Opportunity Institute and spokesperson for the Washington Work and Family Coalition. “We’ve also learned from the gaps in other state programs. Our coalition is energized, and we’ll have people from across the state showing up in Olympia demanding action.”

“Paid family leave is a win-win policy. That’s why MomsRising’s 40,000 Washington members strongly support advancing state legislation in 2017,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO/co-founder of and a member of the coalition. “Paid family and medical leave allows employees to take time off from work to care for a newborn baby or sick family member without having to forgo much-needed pay and it also helps businesses – especially those on Main Street – because they see more productive and loyal employees and save money on recruitment and training. That’s why we’re rolling up our sleeves to keep the momentum going forward because this policy boosts families, businesses, and the economy while also saving lives.”

The study also included interviews with 30 employers and estimates of potential reductions in TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) usage by new mothers due to paid family leave.

California, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island have established programs that provide wage replacement for 26 to 52 weeks for the worker’s own serious health condition, including pregnancy and childbirth-related disability, and from 4 to 12 additional weeks of paid family leave to care for a newborn or newly placed child or for a seriously ill family member. The programs are typically funded through payroll premiums. A number of other states are considering establishing similar programs.

A summary of the study’s findings is available here.

Full study results are available here.

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