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Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave Benefits—Looking Forward to 2020



For our July 2019 article about Oregon's paid family and medical leave, please click here.

As all employers in Washington know by now, Washington is phasing in its new Washington Paid Family Medical Leave (WAPFML) program. Beginning January 1, 2019, employers began making payroll deductions for the employees’ portion of the WAPFML premiums.1 The first two quarters of those premiums, along with the employer’s portion of the premiums (if any), must be transmitted to the Washington Employment Security Department in July 2019. Thereafter, the premiums will be transmitted each quarter.

The next stage of phasing in WAPFML begins January 1, 2020, when the state will start paying weekly benefits to eligible employees for qualifying leave.

When considering what employer-paid leave benefits to offer employees in 2020, employers may want to make changes in light of the availability of WAPFML benefits to Washington employees. Beginning those discussions now will make any changes to benefits easier to implement. Here is some basic information that could be pertinent to those discussions:

When is an employee eligible for WAPFML leave benefits?
An employee is eligible for WAPFML benefits if he or she has worked in Washington at least 820 hours during a four-quarter qualifying period. The hours can be worked for any employer during the qualifying period; there is no per-employer requirement.

For what reasons and how long can an employee receive WAPFML benefits?
An eligible employee can receive PFML benefits for family leave or medical leave or both. Generally speaking, medical leave benefits are available for an employee’s own serious health condition, and family leave benefits are available for the remaining purposes under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), as well as leave related to deployment of an active-duty military spouse. Within 52 consecutive weeks, an employee may receive benefits for up to 12 weeks of medical or family leave, or up to 16 weeks combined if both are needed in the consecutive 52-week period. If the employee’s own serious health condition is incapacity related to pregnancy or childbirth, the employee may receive another two weeks of benefits.

Are there any waiting periods for benefits?
Except for leave for birth or placement of a child (no waiting period), there is a seven-day waiting period.

What are the weekly WAPFML benefits that an employee will receive?
Each week, the employee will receive approximately 60–90 percent of the employee’s own average weekly wage (depending on the amount of his or her average weekly wage), up to a weekly benefit cap. In 2020, the weekly benefit cap is $1,000 per week. Beginning in 2021, the weekly benefit cap will be adjusted to 90 percent of the state Average Weekly Wage.2 Benefits will be prorated for intermittent leave.

Questions to ponder:

  • Should we reduce the amount of PTO that accrues each year, since employees can receive WAPFML benefits for many of the reasons that PTO was established to cover?3
  • Do we still need a short-term disability plan (as either purchased insurance or salary continuation) in light of WAPFML benefits and/or mandated paid sick leave benefits?
  • Should we have separate sick leave and personal leave policies, refocusing personal leave on vacation time?
  • Do we want to allow employees to “gross up” their pay with employer-paid PTO (or sick leave, short-term disability, etc.) for the difference between their weekly WAPFML benefits and their own regular weekly compensation?
  • Does it make sense to have different benefits in different states?
  • Are we fine with no changes to our benefits, even in light of WAPFML benefits?

If your organization is considering changes to paid leave benefits currently offered in light of WAPFML, we would be pleased to support and guide those efforts.

[1] Employers may choose to forgo the deductions and pay the employees’ portion of the premium themselves. Any employer that does not want to pay the employees’ portion of the premium but is not yet deducting premiums from employees’ paychecks should contact an attorney to discuss the employer’s obligations.

[2] For illustrative purposes, the 2017 Average Weekly Wage was $1,190, so the WAPFML weekly benefit cap would have been $1,071. Except in very unusual circumstances, the WAPFML weekly benefit cap will increase each year.

[3] Note that if an employer uses PTO to meet its obligations to provide statutory paid sick and safe leave, the employer should ensure that it does not reduce PTO accrual below the mandated paid sick and safe leave levels.

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