Effective January 1, 2020, most Washington employees will become eligible to receive benefits from Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave (“PFML”) program, Title 50A RCW.  The PFLM program is an insurance program administered by the Employment Security Department (the “ESD”) that gives a partial wage replacement and other benefits to eligible Washington employees who take leave due to a serious health condition, to care for a family member suffering a serious health condition, or to care for a new child.

Who is an Eligible Employee?

The PFML program applies to nearly all employees working in Washington, except for those of the federal government.  An employee is eligible if he or she worked at least 820 hours – or approximately 16 hours per week for the entire year – during a “qualifying period.”  The hours worked do not need to be for the same employer for eligibility purposes.

What are the Benefits?

 Under the PFML program, eligible employees receive up to twelve weeks of medical or family leave, or a combined sixteen weeks of medical and family leave.  Eligible employees may receive an additional two weeks of medical leave related to pregnancy complications.

  • Medical Leave: Medical leave may be used for the employee’s own serious health condition. Unless complications arise, ordinary health conditions – such as common cold or flu, ear aches, upset stomach, minor ulcers, headaches (other than migraines), routine dental or orthodontia problems, and periodontal disease – do not qualify as serious health conditions.
  • Family Leave: Family leave may be used to care for a newborn or newly-adopted child, or a family member with a serious health condition. Family leave may also be taken to be with a family member injured in military service or to deal with exigencies of military deployment.  Family members include a spouse (including registered domestic partner), child (including step and foster, regardless of age), grandchild, sibling, parent (including in-law and loco parentis), and grandparents.

During leave under the PFML program, ESD pays a partial wage replacement to the employee.  The amount of the employee’s benefits depends on its average weekly wage.  For 2020, the maximum benefit is $1,000 per week.

The PFML program also includes job protection benefit, which requires that an employee taking leave under the PFML program be returned to the same or a comparable position at the end of the leave period.  The job protection benefit applies only if the employer has at least fifty employees and the employee has worked for the employer for at least twelve months and 1,250 hours in the preceding year.

What is the Process?

Beginning January 1, 2020, to receive benefits, the employee must file a claim with the ESD.  For all leave except for the birth or placement of a child, there is a seven day waiting period before an employee is eligible for benefits.  If the ESD approves the claim, it pays the benefits directly to the employee.

Can an Employer Contest PFML Leave?

Yes.  Once an application is filed, the ESD will notify the employer.  The employer must notify the employee and ESD within eighteen days if it contests a period of family or medical leave, or the objection is waived.

What Are an Employer’s Notice Requirements?

Employers must post a notice of employees’ rights under the PFML program in a conspicuous place where notices to employees are customarily posted.  Employers must also notify each eligible employee of his or her rights within five business days after the employee’s seventh consecutive day of absence due to family or medical leave, or the employer receives notice that the employee’s absence is due to family or medical leave, whichever is later.

Please contact Richard A. Davis III or Matt T. Paxton at Chmelik Sitkin & Davis P.S. if you have questions about Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program.