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Published on Friday, July 07, 2017

Legislature passes new statewide Paid Family & Medical Leave program

As part of the whirlwind activity to pass the operating budget on June 30, the Legislature passed SSB 5975, instituting a new Paid Family & Medical Leave program. The program was heavily negotiated during the past two months and the parties reached a tentative agreement in June.

The program is intended to cover all employees and provide paid leave for a medical disability as well as paid leave to care for a family member.

The new program will apply to public sector employers and employees including cities. Premiums will begin to be collected in 2019 and benefits will follow in 2020.

The new program includes the following provisions:

  • The Employment Security Department (ESD) will administer the program. ESD will collect the premiums (beginning in 2019) and make the payments to covered individuals (beginning in 2020).
  • Employees must work 820 hours in the last five quarters to qualify – once they qualify, they are vested and there is no waiting period to use the benefit even if they change employers.
  • There will be 12 weeks of family leave and 12 weeks of disability leave with a combined 16-week cap in a twelve-month period (up to 18 weeks for pregnancy related complications).
  • Employees will receive a percentage of their weekly wage, with the lowest paid employees receiving 90 percent of their average weekly wage. Those earning more will receive a lower percentage with a maximum benefit of $1,000 per week.
  • Premium sharing will be 45 percent employee paid and 55 percent employer paid for the disability leave portion of the program and 100 percent employee paid for the family leave portion of the program. Only employers with more than 50 employees will pay the employer premium, but all employees will pay the employee share.
  • The initial premium rate is set at 0.4% of wages. The employers share is 37%. For planning purposes, you would assume that you take your total payroll and then you multiply that by 0.4% and take that premium amount and multiply it by 37% to get the employer-paid share. The remaining 63% will be paid by employees. However, the law does allow employers to elect to pay the full premium.
  • Job protections provisions will be similar to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and only apply to employers with 50 or more employees.
  • There will be a voluntary plan option for employers who offer equal to or better benefits to seek a waiver from the state program. There is not a specific exemption for Collective Bargaining Agreements.
  • Employers may request unemployment benefits charges that result from hiring a temporary employee who was laid off due to the return of an employee using these benefits.
  • Leave taken under this program will run concurrently with leave taken under FMLA.
  • Cities are preempted from adopting additional requirements for family and disability leave for employers in their jurisdictions.
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