OLYMPIA – Employers and employees in Washington state will start paying into a new paid family leave program next week, and benefits from the program will begin in 2020.
Starting Tuesday, premiums of 0.4 percent of wages will be collected, with 63 percent paid by employees and 37 percent paid by employers.
Eligible workers will receive 12 weeks paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child or for serious medical condition of the worker or the worker’s family member, or 16 weeks for a combination of both, starting in 2020. An additional two weeks may be used if there is a serious health condition with a pregnancy.
Weekly benefits under the new law will be calculated based on a percentage of the employee’s wages and the state’s weekly average wage – which is now $1,190 – though the weekly amount paid out would be capped at $1,000 a week. Workers who earn less than the state average would get 90 percent of their income. Employees must work at least 820 hours before qualifying for the benefit.
Every employee in the state of Washington will pay into the program that was approved by the Legislature in 2017. Self-employed individuals who elect coverage pay only the employee share of the premiums, and employers with 50 or fewer employees are exempt from paying the employer share. Companies that already offer such programs can apply for a waiver, as long as the benefit the company offers is at least equivalent to the state program.
According to the Employment Security Department, an employee making $50,000 a year would pay about $2.44 a week, while their employer would pay about $1.41 a week, for a weekly benefit of about $778.
Four other states currently have paid family leave programs: California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York. The District of Columbia also has a paid family leave law that takes effect in July 2020.
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of MomsRising, a national organization that advocates for economic security, said that paid family leave is much-needed insurance against unexpected curves – either positive or negative – in people’s lives.
By splitting the cost, the Washington law helps smaller businesses retain employees, she said.
“This allows someone to come out of the labor force and go back in without the full cost going on the employer,” Rowe-Finkbeiner said.
Washington state’s 2017 law came after months of negotiations between lawmakers and those in the business and labor communities, and closed the loop on work left unfinished by the 2007 Legislature. That year, lawmakers created a paid family leave program that required many employers to offer five weeks of paid time off for new parents. But they never came up with a way to pay for the benefit, resulting in an indefinite delay of its implementation.
This time, the discussion on legislative action involved a coalition of business groups, including the Association of Washington Business.
Bob Battles, the government affairs director at AWB, said that the coalition believes the final product is a “good, balanced law.”
“It allows employers of all sizes to be able to offer this benefit to their employees at a cost that is balanced and fair,” he said.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.