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Paid Family and Medical Leave: What do businesses need to know?

Paid Family and Medical Leave in Washington State

Washington State adopted the Paid Family and Medical Leave program in 2019. This law, in short, created a system where qualified employees who need to take time off to care for themselves, loved ones, or the birth or adoption of a child could take a certain amount of time off and also receive supplemental wage payments while off.

How is Paid Family and Medical Leave paid for?

Generally, premiums are deducted from paychecks and held by the state. For employers with more than 50 employees, the employer also pays a part of this premium to the state. Premium assessments have been due quarterly, however, there have been reports of payment system errors.

Due to the system errors, the state is currently not assessing any penalties if you have not yet started making payments.

If you’ve had problems making payments, what should you do?

Determine what is owed and make the payments as soon as possible. When the grace period ends you might start receiving fines.

When can employees take Paid Family and Medical leave?

Employees will be able to start claiming this benefit in 2020.  The Employment Security Department is managing these premiums and will be the agency handling payments from the paid family and medical leave program.

How is Paid Family and Medical Leave different than the Paid Sick and Safe Time (PSST) also recently adopted in WA?

Paid Sick and Safe Time accrues one hour for every 40 hours worked. PSST is usedfor self-care, domestic violence counseling, or to care for certain family members.  It’s generally used for shorter periods of time off like half a day or one day.

Which employees does the Paid Family and Medical Leave program apply to?

Employees who perform all or most of their work in Washington State are eligible to participate in the program. Employees who perform all or most of their work in no particular state but have an operation base, home, or even a supervisor in Washington also qualify. Essentially, if you are paying unemployment insurance for someone in Washington State, you can likely assume you will also have to pay these premiums in the state.

What is the Paid Family and Medical Leave premium?

Check out this link for the current premium amount estimation tool.  If a business has over 50 employees, the total premium amount split between employer and employee. If a business has under 50 employees, instead of contributing to the premium, the employer deducts the premium and sends the amount to the state. Premiums divide between 1/3 Family and 2/3 Medical.

How do I calculate the size of my employee base for purposes of my obligations to make premium payments?

For 2019, the number of employees reported to the Employment Security Department for the first quarter of the year determines the employee base size. In 2020, the average employee size between the first and third quarters determines the employee base size. For 2021 and onward, the Employment Security Department will look to the average employee base size from the prior four full quarters to determine the employee base size for the next year.

What if I’m self-employed or an independent contractor?

Self-employed individuals can opt-in and make premium payments.

What are the benefits for employees?

Eligible recipients must have worked 820 hours during a “qualified period,” which is generally the last four full calendar quarters or first four of the last five full calendar quarters. The amount of eligible pay varies depending on salary and other factors. Also, employees have to make weekly filings in order to receive benefits. The benefits are portable meaning an employee can aggregate hours among multiple employers during the qualifying period.

What are the different types of Paid Family and Medical Leave?

See this link for more examples.

Medical: Employee’s own serious health condition.  Serious health condition requiring overnight stay in hospital or medical facility, incapacity or 3+ days and treatment by a healthcare provider, chronic conditions, pregnancy, and pregnancy-related conditions.

Family: Bonding after adoption, birth, or foster placement of a child (any parent), caring for a family member during a serious health condition, and certain military leave.  The definition of “family” is broader than under FMLA (which includes a spouse, parent, or dependent child) whereas under the Paid Family and Medical Leave program it includes grandchildren, grandparents, siblings, registered domestic partners, children (regardless of age or capacity), parents-in-law, grandparents-in-law.  Paid protected leave.

As an employer what do I need to do for my employees in preparation for this policy?

Give notice to all employees regarding this new policy and their rights under the policy. Employers must:

  • Display a poster (not yet available).
  • Provide notice of rights (not yet available) to employees within 5 business days of the 7th consecutive day of absence due to family or medical leave.
  • Be proactive in notifying employees of such rights. If you know an employee has a serious health condition or caring for someone then give them the notice.

What if I already have a paid time off policy that could be used for similar purposes?

It’s always advisable to consult with the state, a lawyer, or HR professional to decide how to handle the new program or policy already used by your business. In some cases, businesses might offer both and let the employee decide. Employers can optionally supplement this leave.

Do I need to update my Employee Handbook?

Yes, businesses should begin updating handbooks, however, some businesses might wait until display posters and notices are made available. If a business:

  1. Allows supplement, then reflect it in the handbook. Include employees can’t receive more than 100% of their wages on the same day.
  2. Has a parental leave benefit already in place, it might be advisable to condition an employee applying for Paid Family and Medical Leave as well.

It is also important to train management on the new program and that it applies to them as well.

For additional guidance on paid family and medical leave in Washington, contact Foundry Law Group today.

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