Time for life’s joys and emergencies
At some point, almost everyone has to take time away from work, whether to care for a new child, help a family member who is sick, or to recover from their own illness. It’s the foundation of our economy – we wouldn’t have a workforce with no one to care for employees – and it’s a key component of leading a fulfilling life. Washington Work and Families Coalition was one of the catalyzing organization behind Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program, one of the most comprehensive in the nation. As of January 1, 2020, nearly all working Washingtonians can take the time they need to care for their health or that of a loved one without fear of missing a paycheck. WWFC continues to work with community partners to ensure equitable access to Washington’s program and advises advocates across the country working toward similar policy.
Paid Family & Medical Leave provides paid time to:
- Recover from your own serious illness or injury
- Care for a newborn or newly placed foster or adopted child
- Care for a seriously ill family member
- Cope with a family member’s military deployment
Washington’s Employment Security Department administers PFML.
Apply for benefits here.
How the Program Works:
When you need to take an extended leave for a covered condition:
1. Prepare by reviewing the PaidLeave.wa.gov website, notifying your employer (30 days in advance when possible), gathering documents, including ID and medical or birth certification, and creating your account.
2. Apply for benefits, but wait until after your qualifying event occurs (birth, surgery, etc.) Don’t worry, if you start leave before receiving approval, you can collect retroactive benefits for those weeks.
3. File weekly claims – Once your application is approved, you’ll file weekly claims for benefits – similar to filling out your timesheet.
You can take up to 12 weeks of either family or medical leave, or up to 16 weeks combined if you need both family and medical leave in the same year. Leave can extend for up to 18 weeks for someone who experiences a serious pregnancy-related complication. Birth mothers who experience an uncomplicated pregnancy and childbirth are also entitled to take the medical leave they need to maintain a healthy pregnancy and recover from childbirth, plus bonding leave, for a combined 16 weeks of leave. Leaves can be taken all at once or intermittently. Both parents can take bonding leave, and more than one family member can take time to support a seriously ill loved one.
Benefits are based on your usual weekly wages over the past year, and top off at $1,000 per week in 2020 ($1,206 in 2021). For example, someone earning $540 per week would get a weekly benefit of $486 (90% of gross wages); someone earning $1,040 per week would have a weekly benefit of $771 (74%); and someone making $1,635 per week would have a weekly benefit of $1,000 (61%). You’ll receive payment by direct deposit or a prepaid card. You can estimate your weekly benefit here.
Everyone who worked at least 820 hours in the past year (about 16 hours per week), including with multiple employers, is covered. Except: Federal employees and some Tribal employees. Workers covered by collective bargaining agreements that have not changed since October 2017 may not be covered until their contract reopens.
Washington employees and employers support PFML through payroll premiums. 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. Companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from paying the employer share, but their employees still receive the same benefits. Employers may also opt to pay the employee share of premiums.
The state government has a premium calculator here.
Coordination with employer benefits
Employees can often coordinate their PFML benefits with sick leave, PTO, or other paid leave benefits, to either extend their leaves or supplement their benefit up to full pay. Check with your employer about how to receive supplemental benefits. You can also use sick leave or PTO during the week waiting period before medical benefits begin.
Is my job protected?
If you’ve worked at least 1 year at a firm with 50 or more employees, your employer probably must hold your job and continue your health insurance. Otherwise, they may not be required to. However, many smaller employers want to retain trained employees, so talk to your boss or HR department about returning to work. If you meet eligibility criteria, you are entitled to receive PFML benefits and do not need your boss’s permission.
Support for businesses
Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not required to pay the employer share of premiums, but may choose to do so in order 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 temporary replacement workers, or up to $1,000 for other costs of covering work when someone is out on leave (such as overtime or cross-training a current employee). 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.
For a factsheet about Paid Family and Medical Leave expansions, click here.
For preliminary research and lessons from implementing Washington’s Paid Family & Medical Leave Program, click here.
For a comic explaining the difference between sick leave and family and medical leave, click here.
For a report on how advocates won paid leave in Washington, click here.
For a factsheet about what generally qualifies for military-related leave, click here.
For more research about paid family and medical leave, click here.
You can check for more materials here.