Washington Paid Family & Medical Leave

Group Benefits
At some point, nearly everyone will need to take time away from a job for family or medical reasons. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 guarantees eligible employees up to 12 weeks of leave without the threat of losing their benefits or their job. But the FMLA’s protection is limited: it assures only unpaid leave, which many workers can’t afford, and applies only to businesses with 50 or more employees.
 
Under the provisions of the FMLA, the states may offer broader coverage to more people, and several states now mandate some form of paid family and medical leave coverage for their workers. Other states have various paid leave bills in progress. While this may be good news for employees, it places new administration demands on employers.
 
This is our first in an ongoing series of updates on paid family and medical leave developments – so you can be prepared to fulfill all mandated requirements. This release features highlights for the state of Washington, one of the most recent states to mandate paid leave.
 
Washington State’s paid family and medical leave program officially launches on January 1, 2020, when benefits become available to employees. With a few exceptions, all employers are required to participate in the state program or adopt a state-approved, employer-funded plan. For the purposes of discussion here, these plans will be referred to as “voluntary” although some companies may choose to offer insured plans. Almost all employees are eligible to receive benefits.
Frequently Asked Questions
Eligible employees can take leave to:
 
  • Welcome a new child (through birth, adoption, or foster placement)
  • Recover from a personal illness or injury
  • Care for an ill or injured relative
  • Respond to certain military-connected events, such as the time required to prepare for a family member’s pre- or post-deployment.
Employees may be entitled to one of the following leaves each year:
 
  • Up to 12 weeks of family leave
  • Up to 12 weeks of personal medical leave*
  • Up to a total of 16 weeks for a combination of paid family and medical leave
During the leave period, eligible employees may receive up to 90 percent of their gross wage, to a weekly maximum of $1,000 and a minimum of $100.
 
* Two additional weeks when the leave is for incapacitation due to pregnancy complications.
To qualify for benefits, the employee must have worked at least 820 hours in WA for any employer. Benefits are calculated based on the two highest quarters from either of the following time periods:  the first 4 of the last 5 calendar quarters OR the last 4 completed calendar quarters (about 16 hours per week on average). All paid work over the course of the year counts toward the 820-hour minimum, including part-time, seasonal, and temporary work.
Businesses and organizations of all sizes are required to participate, whether in the state program or a voluntary plan. Exceptions include:
 
  • Self-employed individuals (may opt in to the state plan)
  • Federal employers
  • Federally recognized tribal employers (may opt in to the state plan)
You may request a waiver of premium for employees who are:
 
  • Physically based outside Washington
  • Employed in Washington on a limited/temporary basis
The program is funded through premiums equal to 0.4 percent of each employee’s wages, up to the Social Security maximum. The employee pays 63 percent of that premium through payroll deduction, which began on January 1, 2019.  You pay the remaining 37 percent ─ but may choose to cover all or some of the premium on the employee’s behalf. This will be further broken out for the state medical leave vs. the family leave plans.
 
You’ll need to remit premiums to the state on a quarterly basis. The final due date for deductions collected collected in the first and second quarters of 2019 is July 31, 2019. Premiums for voluntary plans will need to be held in a trust account.
Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not required to pay the employer portion, but still must collect and remit the employee portion to the state.
You can opt out of either the state family leave or state medical leave plan if you have a state-approved voluntary paid-leave program that offers comparable or more generous benefits than the state plan. Once you are approved to self-fund a voluntary plan, all contributions from approval date forward, will go towards your voluntary plan instead of the state plan.
 
  • Voluntary plans need to be approved by the state each year for the plan’s first three years. Thereafter, approval is required only when changes are made.
  • The contribution amount to a voluntary plan is the same as for the state plan. You may waive employee contributions if you wish.
  • You must hold all premiums collected and any income earned in a trust account specifically identified for that purpose within a financial institution.
  • Employers must report employee wages and hours worked each quarter with a voluntary plan. Please reference the WA PFML Employer Guide for more information on required information and manual vs single filing options.
  • Employers must provide notice in writing of the PFML program to employees or face penalties. A poster will be available before 1/1/2020.
Please reach out to your representative at The Hartford for additional information or have an employee benefits representative from The Hartford contact you.

What Is the Current Status of the State Plan’s Implementation?

January 1, 2019 was an important first milestone for all employers. As of that date, state law required you to:
 
  • Decide whether to go with the state program or offer your own voluntary program. While you can decide to opt-out into a voluntary plan after this date, if you are approved for a private plan you WILL still be responsible for collecting owed premium for this timeframe to the state.
  • If you chose voluntary and were approved prior to 1/1/19, begin collecting employee contributions through payroll deduction to fund your voluntary plan.
  • If you chose the state program effective 1/1/19, begin collecting employee contributions through payroll deduction to fund the state plan.

What Do I Need to Do Next?

If you’re not on an approved voluntary plan and using the state program, your next steps are to:
 
  • Report employee wages, hours worked, and other required information to the state on a quarterly basis, beginning first quarter of 2019 with due date by July 31, 2019.  You can submit your reports online through the state’s employer account management system or via hard copy.
  • Remit premiums to the state on a quarterly basis. The final due date for premiums collected in the first quarter 2019 is July 31, 2019.
All employers must notify employees of benefit availability prior to January 1, 2020. The state will provide materials to be used for this purpose well in advance of benefit start date.
 
 
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This informational material is subject to change as we continue to receive guidance from each state. It shall not be considered legal advice. The Hartford assumes no responsibility for legal compliance with respect to your business practices, and the views and recommendations contained herein shall not constitute our undertaking on your behalf, or for the benefit of others, to determine or warrant that your business operations are in compliance with any law, rule, or regulation. Those seeking resolution of specific legal or business issues, questions, or concerns regarding this topic should consult their own attorney or business advisors.
The Hartford® is The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc. and its subsidiaries, including underwriting companies Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company and Hartford Fire Insurance Company. Home Office is Hartford, CT.