Washington to legislate for paid family and medical leave

Washington

Washington has passed a bill to introduce a new paid family and medical leave benefit for employees based in the US state.

The new family and medical leave programme, which will come into effect from 1 January 2020, will enable eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition or to bond with a child in the first year after their birth or placement. Employees will be able to take up to 12 weeks of paid medical leave for their own serious health condition.

Employees can take up to 16 weeks of family and medical leave combined in a year. A further two weeks can be taken if the employee experiences pregnancy-related complications.

The family and medical leave must be taken in the 12-month period following the birth or adoption of a child or in the 12-months following an application for the benefit.

Pay for the new leave programme will equate to up to 90% of an employee’s average weekly earnings if their salary is 50% or less than the state’s average weekly wage. If the employee’s average weekly earnings are higher than 50% of the state’s average weekly wage then they will receive 90% of their weekly wage up to 50% of the state’s average weekly wage and 50% of their average weekly wage that is greater than the state average.

The minimum weekly benefit is $100 (£77), and if an employee’s weekly wage is under this threshold, the employee will be paid their full wage. The maximum is $1,000 (£772) a week.

From 30 September 2020, the maximum weekly benefit amount will be reviewed annually and adjusted to 90% of the state’s average weekly wage. The adjusted amount will come into effect from January of the following year.

To be eligible for the paid leave, employees will need to have completed 820 hours of service.

The leave will be financed by employer and employee premiums, initially set at 0.4% of wages and commencing from 1 January 2019. An employer can opt to pay an employee’s share of the premiums.

Organisations with 50 or fewer employees are exempt from paying the employer premiums.

Employers may opt out of the paid family and medical leave programme if they offer a plan that is at least equivalent to the benefits provided to staff under the state’s programme.

Unless expressly permitted by an employer, the new family and medical leave insurance programme is to be taken concurrently with any leave taken under the statutory Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave.

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The bill has been approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives, and will now go to the governor of Washington to be signed.

Jay Inslee, governor of Washington, said: “All too often, new parents and those with ageing or sick loved ones face no-win decisions pitting the need for a pay check against the need to be there for their family. Our nation should not be the outlier in helping families navigate these difficult situations.”