Washington State Enacts Paid Family Leave Mandate

Washington State Enacts Paid Family Leave Mandate

Washington State has joined the handful of US states that have enacted laws requiring organizations to provide minimum paid family and medical leave benefits for their employees, the Seattle Times reports, after Governor Jay Inslee signed a bipartisan bill into law on Wednesday:

The measure offers eligible workers 12 weeks paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child or for the serious medical condition of the worker or the worker’s family member beginning in 2020, or 16 weeks for a combination of both. An additional two weeks may be used if there is a serious health condition with a pregnancy. …

Under the new law, both employers and employees pay into the system, and weekly benefits are calculated based on a percentage of the employee’s wages and the state’s weekly average wage — which is now $1,082 — though the weekly amount paid out would be capped at $1,000 a week. Workers who earn less than the state average would get 90 percent of their income. Employees must work at least 820 hours before qualifying for the benefit.

Self-employed individuals who elect coverage pay only the employee share of the premiums, and employers with 50 or fewer employees are exempt from paying the employer share. Companies that already offer such programs can opt out, as long as they are at least equivalent to the state program.

Washington’s legislature first passed a family leave mandate a decade ago, but failed to devise a plan to pay for it until this year. The state also passed a paid sick leave law last year. Other states with family leave mandates include California, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island, as well as Washington, DC—though New York’s law will not take effect until next year, while the District’s mandate comes into force in 2020.

The US does not mandate paid family leave at the national level (as proponents of a federal mandate often point out, it is one of only a handful of countries in the world that does not). The proliferation of these state laws may raise the pressure on the federal government to take some kind of action, however. A pair of liberal and conservative think tanks recently released a compromise proposal for a federal family leave policy that would entitle both mothers and fathers to eight weeks’ leave paid at 70 percent of their wages for eight weeks after the birth or adoption of a child, with guaranteed job protection.

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, released in May, includes a plan that would require states to provide a six-week paid parental leave guarantee, paid for through existing unemployment insurance programs. Critics of Trump’s proposal called it inadequate and unworkable. Some large employers, meanwhile, are pushing the US Congress to write a federal “safe harbor” law exempting them from state and local paid leave mandates as long as they meet a less onerous federal standard, which they would not be otherwise obligated to fulfill.