Washington Paid Family & Medical Leave (WA PFML) is a new insurance program, authorized in 2017, and set to begin on January 1st, 2020. Via WA PFML, Washington residents can take up to 12 weeks paid leave from employment annually to care for a seriously injured or ill relative (or domestic partner). While this program is not solely designed for providing care for the elderly, it is particularly relevant for adult children who have aging parents who need extensive care. The need for care might result from a number of causes, such as recovery from a broken hip as a result of a fall or cognitive decline due to the progression of Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia.
This program is administered by Washington’s Employment Security Department and is financed through employee/employer contributions (premiums). These contributions, which began in January of 2019, are minimal, comprising 0.4% of an employee’s gross wages (the amount earned prior to tax withholdings and deductions). While an employer must pay 63% of the 0.4% premium, in some cases, the employer might pay the entire premium rather than deduct the other portion from an employee’s paycheck. At the time of this writing, it is unclear if the premiums will increase in 2020.
In order for a Washington employee to be eligible for the Paid Family & Medical Leave program, and hence time take paid time off to care for a family member, the following conditions must be met:
- Be employed by a business that is part of the Paid Family & Medical Leave program. While most working Washingtonians are covered, there are some exceptions. These include residents who are self-employed, federal employees, and federally recognized tribes. However, federally recognized tribes and self-employed persons can opt into the program. For additional information, click here.
- Have worked a minimum of 820 hours in the last year. This equates to approximately 16 work hours per week. Please note that these hours can be spread among multiple employers.
- Have a family member that is seriously ill or injured, and as a result, requires care. Supporting documentation must be provided by the relative’s medical provider.
- The “family member“ must be one of the following: a parent (biological, adoptive, in-law, or loco parentis, which refers to someone who assumed the legal responsibilities of a parent), sibling, grandparent, spouse, or domestic partner.
- Provide a written notice of leave 30 days prior to leave (if possible).
Please note: Washington Paid Family & Medical Leave should not be confused with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). To be clear, Washington Paid Family & Medical Leave is a state program that pays employees while they are on leave, while FMLA is a federal program that is unpaid time off from employment. Furthermore, the requirements to participate in the WA PFML are less restrictive than are the requirements for FMLA. With FMLA, an employee’s job is always protected, but with Washington’s Paid Family & Medical Leave program it is not. An employee only has to work 820 hours to be eligible for the Paid Family & Medical Leave Act. However, in order for his or her job to be protected, one has to have worked 1,250 hours in the past year, worked for the employer for at least a year, and the business has to employ at least 50 persons. These requirements for job protection are in line with the requirements for FMLA.
Employees who are eligible for the WA PFML program can receive up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a seriously ill or injured family member. While leave can be taken in one long stretch, it does not have to be taken in this manner. Alternatively, one may take off work intermittently, such as one day a week for an extended period of time.
Payments on leave are less than one’s regular pay, but an individual can be paid up to 90% of his or her regular pay. The maximum amount of payment, at the time of this writing, is set at $1,000 per week.
Some employees are entitled to job protection while they are on paid leave. This means their job will be held for them. You can find the eligibility requirements for this benefit in the section above.
How to Apply / Learn More
Remember, the Washington Paid Family & Medical Leave program does not start until January 1, 2020. At that time, Washington residents can submit an application by mail or apply online on the Washington Paid Family & Medical Leave website here. Additional information can also be found on the website. There is also a Customer Care Team available to answer questions at 833-717-2273.