In Focus: Washington Becomes Latest State to Pass Paid-Family-Leave Law

In Focus: Washington Becomes Latest State to Pass Paid-Family-Leave Law

Washington will soon join California, New Jersey and Rhode Island in providing workers with paid family leave.

Washington lawmakers had approved a similar measure in 2007, but the program was never funded or implemented. The new program will be paid for through payroll taxes, and covered workers will be eligible to take the paid time off starting in 2020.

New York  and Washington, D.C., also have passed paid-family-leave laws that have yet to take effect.

Here's what HR professionals should know about Washington's new law.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Family and Medical Leave]

Generous Benefits

Gov. Jay Inslee has signed legislation that will provide some of the most generous paid-family-leave benefits in the country. Starting in 2020, eligible female and male employees will receive up to 12 weeks of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child or for their own or a family member's serious medical condition—or 16 weeks for a combination of both. Female workers may receive an additional two weeks (up to 18 weeks total) if they have a serious health condition related to pregnancy. Employees must work at least 820 hours during the last year to qualify for the benefit.

(The Seattle Times)

Employer and Employee Contributions

The state will regulate Washington's program and will pay for it through employee and employer contributions that will start in January 2019. Workers can begin taking the paid time off in 2020. The premium will be 0.4 percent of wages—employees will pay 63 percent and employers will contribute 37 percent. The actual benefit will be calculated based on a percentage of the employee's weekly earnings and the state's average weekly wage (which is currently $1,082) with a $1,000 weekly cap. Small businesses with 50 or fewer employees and businesses that offer their own comparable plans will be able to opt out of the state-run program.

(KNKX Public Radio)

Long Battle

The measure's approval comes a decade after Washington lawmakers passed the state's first paid family leave bill. That legislation would have offered new parents five weeks of paid leave at $250 per week, but state lawmakers never agreed on how to fund it. This time, legislators have agreed on an insurance plan with a $1,000 per week cap. "Though Democrats had initially put forth a plan that would have given workers 26 weeks of paid family leave, the more modest passed legislation still amounts to one of the best deals in the country," wrote Christina Cauterucci of Slate.


Party-Line Vote

State lawmakers mostly voted along party lines—with Democrats supporting the measure and Republicans opposing it. Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, who introduced the bill, said it will give Washington workers the opportunity to "put their families first." On the other side of the political aisle, Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, said, "It's one step toward a socialist state government." Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, is concerned that it will hurt Spokane-area businesses that have to compete with companies in Idaho that face fewer regulations.

(The Spokesman-Review)

More State Legislation

President Donald Trump has promised to help working families, but much of the movement in this area has been at the state level. In addition to Washington's new paid-family-leave law, Oregon lawmakers recently passed a predictable scheduling law that would protect workers from last minute schedule changes (among other things), and New Jersey legislators approved a measure to double the state's paid-sick-leave time to 12 weeks. Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work (a network of state employee-advocacy groups) said, "We don't see this as an alternative to federal policy; we see this as a way to get a federal bill," The New York Times reported. 

(The New York Times)

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