Washington Jumps on the Paid Family and Medical Leave Bandwagon, But Paid Sick Leave is Coming First
Last week, Washington joined California, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island in guaranteeing paid family leave. Washington’s law is perhaps the most generous of the bunch, and the first to pay for the program without tacking it onto a state run disability program. The District of Columbia also approved a paid family leave law that will take effect in July 2020.
Washington State’s law will also take effect in 2020 and will offer eligible workers 12 weeks of paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child or for the serious health condition of the worker or the worker’s family member and an additional two weeks of leave for complicated pregnancies.
Washington’s paid family and medical leave will be funded through weekly paycheck contributions made by both employers and employees, similar to health insurance. Lower wage earners and their employers will contribute less than higher wage earners and their employers. Employers with less than 50 employees will have no obligation to contribute, although their employees will still contribute. Finally, self-employed workers in Washington will also be eligible to participate.
While employers in Washington have some time to prepare for this new law, this law stands as further proof that the big employment law changes are taking place at the state level. Employers with employees in multiple states should be ready to update their handbooks to include changes to state laws. Additionally, Washington employers do not have to wait until 2020 for a big change, as paid sick time is coming to the state in 2018.
The statewide Paid Sick Leave law is largely modeled after Seattle’s Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance that took effect in 2012. While both the Seattle and the proposed state law provide paid leave for the same reasons—an employee’s own or a family member’s illness, injury or medical care, a public health emergency, or qualifying reason under the state’s Domestic Violence Leave Act—they also have differences. It is important for employers to understand that where the state and local paid sick leave rules differ, employers will have to provide the benefit that is most generous to the employee. This will create complex compliance challenges, and we recommend working with an employment attorney to create and administer policies that satisfy both state and local laws. L&I is in the process of developing proposed rules for the new sick leave law, which will include opportunities for public comment, including public hearings. If you are interested in taking part, you can sign up for updates: http://www.lni.wa.gov/Main/Listservs/WRWageHour.asp.