By Audra Hedberg, HR Compliance Analyst, Trüpp.

Many companies are finding themselves navigating new state paid family and medical leave laws. While California has had a state-funded disability program for years, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island recently enacted their own programs. The state of Washington is quickly following suit with its new law going into effect January 1, 2019.

How much leave will an employee be eligible for?

The new Washington State Paid Family Leave tax is effective January 1, 2019, and employees will be eligible to take the leave starting January 1, 2020. The law is broken up into two buckets – one for Family Leave and one for Medical Leave:

  • Family Leave: An employee can take up to 12 weeks of paid family leave including caring for a newborn or newly-adopted child or a family member with a serious health condition. Employees can also take time to be with a family member injured in military service or to deal with military exigencies.
  • Medical Leave: An employee can take up to 12 weeks of paid medical leave, which can only be used for the employee’s own serious health condition, with an additional two weeks available for pregnancy disability.
  • Combined Family and Medical Leave: For combined family and medical leave (medical leave for caring for a spouse plus for an employee’s own serious health condition, for example), the total combined leave an employee can take in a year is 16 weeks, or 18 weeks if the leave includes a qualifying pregnancy disability.

Is the leave protected?

Yes, Family or Medical leave under the program is protected, meaning an employee must be returned to the same or comparable position at the end of the leave. It is important to note, the law has included an expanded list of family members an employee is eligible to care for, which differs from FMLA and Washington Family Leave Act (FLA), to include parent-in-law, sibling, grandparent, or grandchild.

Should I notify my employees of a new payroll deduction?

Yes. Effective January 1, 2019, both employees and employers with 50 or more employees will be required to take payroll deductions which is a total of 0.4% of employee’s gross weekly wages. Employers are responsible for 37% and employees are responsible for the remaining 63%. So, an employee making $50,000 per year will pay $2.42 per week and the employer will pay $1.42 per week.

Do I have to offer the paid leave and pay the tax if I’m a small employer?

All employers in Washington must offer paid leave although, employers with fewer than 50 employees who work in Washington, are not required pay the employer portion of the premiums.

What if I have my own paid parental leave program?

An employer with an equivalent or a better paid leave program may apply to opt out of the state program through a “Voluntary Plan”. Employers must allow employees to take at least the same duration of leave from work as the state plan, pay at least total monetary benefits as the state plan and withhold an amount from an employee’s wages at the same rate or lower than what would be withheld under the state plan for the same period of time.

If you have your own paid parental leave policy, we recommend reviewing your policy to ensure you are offering the same leave benefits to both genders. Many employers are surprised to find offering more paid leave to female employees and less to male employees is a discriminatory practice.