Launch of New Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave Program

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On January 1, 2019, the new Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave Act (PFML) will go into effect, beginning with premium collection and requirements for reporting to the Employment Security Department (ESD).  Employees will not be eligible to start using benefits until January 1, 2020.

PFML is a vanguard benefits program and is likely to be adopted by other states in the nation.   It mandates employees may take leave for their own or family member’s serious health condition, or to care for a child born or placed within 12 months.  Employees will be entitled to take up to 12 weeks of family or medical leave or a combined 16 weeks, and an additional 2 weeks if leave results from pregnancy complications.  PFML also provides job protection and continuation of health benefits similar to those existing under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  This program is particularly unique as the benefits are portable and travel with the employee from employer to employer.

Key points to know as we head in to this phase of PFML:

  • Few employers are exempt from coverage (federal employers and federally-recognized tribes). Religious organizations, non-profits, and state and local employers are subject to the law. Unless exempt, employers are required to participate regardless of size or number of employees.
  • Employers subject to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in force as of October 19, 2017, are exempt until the CBA is reopened, renegotiated, or expires.

Small Businesses

Small businesses, those with less than 50 employees localized in Washington State, enjoy some benefits and grant assistance under the PFML.  As a small business, you are exempt from paying the employer portion of premiums, but may want to do so to take advantage of grant assistance available.

Voluntary Plans

Many organizations are opting to develop a voluntary plan that would be self-administered, though there will still be reporting requirements.  Although you can elect to do either or both a family and/or medical leave plan, any voluntary plan must meet or exceed the state plan and you will be required to hold collected premiums in a separate interest-bearing trust account.  If your organization chooses to operate its own voluntary plan, please be sure to submit the plan to ESD for approval as soon as possible.  Until you receive approval from ESD, you are required to participate in the state plan and collect and remit payments to the state.

If you would like assistance understanding obligations under PFML, assessing whether a voluntary plan is best for your organization, and/or developing and submitting a voluntary plan for approval, please do not hesitate to reach out to a member of the Helsell Fetterman Labor and Employment Group.


About the Authors

Onik'a Gilliam

Ms. Gilliam’s practice focuses primarily on defending private and public entities, including school districts, in a wide range of civil litigation matters pending in state and federal courts and before administrative agencies, with an emphasis on employment-based and negligence claims.

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