By Zandrea Harlin
Have you heard the good news? Washington State is expecting…Paid Family and Medical Leave beginning on January 1, 2020! Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program will provide workers with paid time off to welcome a new child to their family, care for a sick loved one, or to recover from their own serious medical condition. Below, we address the most frequently asked questions about the upcoming program.
Who qualifies for leave?
Anyone who has worked at least 820 hours with one or multiple employers within the past year, including public, private, non-profit, and part-time employees, qualifies to receive Paid Family and Medical Leave. Self-employed individuals and federally recognized tribes can opt in and receive benefits. Federal employees, however, are not covered by the program.
How much paid leave is available?
Each year, workers will be able to take:
- 12 weeks of paid family leave to bond with a new child after birth, adoption, or foster placement or to care for a seriously sick spouse, child (including adult children), sibling, parent, grandchild, or grandparent.
- 12 weeks of paid medical leave to recover from their own serious medical condition. For example, childbirth, surgery, or a mental health crisis. Leave cannot be taken for minor illnesses, such as a cold.
Workers can combine paid family and medical leave to receive a total of 16 weeks of paid leave per year. That means the birth parent can take 16 weeks of paid leave and birth parents who experience pregnancy complications, as defined by a doctor, can take 18 weeks of paid leave per year.
Is the leave job-protected?
The leave is job-protected if you qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). To qualify for FMLA, you must have worked for an employer for at least 12 months, with a minimum of 1,250 hours in the past year, and at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles. The paid leave benefits will continue regardless of if your employer chooses to protect your job or not.
Did you welcome a child in 2019? You CAN still take leave (phew!).
There is good news for workers who welcomed a new child into their families in 2019. Whether you brought a new child home through birth, adoption, or foster care, families are eligible to use the 12 weeks of family leave within the first year of the child’s life or within the first year of the child’s arrival in the home. It is important to note, however, that if you and your employer are not covered by the FMLA this leave is not job protected. Individuals in this circumstance will need to work with their employer to take the time as they collect the paid benefit from the state. Each situation is unique, so if you are unsure about your circumstances, contact the Employment Security Department for clarification.
Let’s review some examples of how Paid Family and Medical Leave could work for a family who brings home a baby in 2019:
- Scenario 1: Angelica and Brian’s daughter was born in July of 2019. Starting on January 1, 2020, Brian will take 12 weeks of paid family leave. Angelica will take her paid family leave on Tuesdays and Fridays from the first week of January to the end of June, totaling 54 days (approx 10.5 weeks)
- Scenario 2: Jessica adopted her son in November of 2019 Starting on January 1, 2020, she will take four weeks of leave. Then, in May, she will take another four weeks. Finally, in September, Jessica will take her remaining four weeks, totaling 12 weeks in all.
It is imperative to keep in mind that the leave must be used before the one year mark, so if you welcomed a child in early 2019, you may be unable to take the full 12 weeks of leave.
What will my paycheck be while I am out on leave?
Workers will receive a percentage of their regular wages, with low-income workers receiving 90% of their wages and higher income workers receiving a progressively smaller portion of their wages, to a maximum weekly benefit of $81,000. Therefore, employees earning more than $81,000/year will receive no more than $1,000/week.
How will I receive the benefits?
When you want to take the leave, you will go to the Washington Paid Family & Medical Leave website and apply for benefits. You will share what kind of leave you are taking (medical or family), upload paperwork to verify the need for leave (such as a note from your doctor or midwife), and submit your application electronically. You can also apply over the phone by calling the Employment Security Department. Language interpretation is available for those applying over the phone.
While you are on leave, you will receive your paycheck from the Employment Security Department, not your employer. While on leave, you will need to submit weekly leave claims to let the state know if you are still on leave, or if you have returned to work.
Do I have to be currently working to qualify?
No. If you recently left your job, you can still qualify for benefits, as long as you have worked at least 820 hours in the past 12 months.
Do those hours have to be from the same employer?
No. If you have – or had – multiple jobs, all of your hours worked count towards the 820 hours as long as they are accumulated with an employer who is not the federal government or a federally recognized tribe that hasn’t opted into the program.
I’m an independent contractor. Am I eligible?
Independent contractors can qualify for benefits too. All you have to do is opt-into the program, report your hours to the state each quarter, pay the employee-portion of the premium (estimated at a few dollars a week), and you’re all set to receive the same benefits as everyone else.
I have more questions!
Learn more about how the program will work and calculate your weekly benefit at MomsRising.org, a comprehensive online resource. Information is available in the website in English and Spanish. For information in Chinese, Korean, Russian, Somali, and Vietnamese, visitors can adjust to their desired language on the website by selecting their language of choice on the dropdown box above the video.
About the Author
Zandrea Harlin became passionate about paid family and medical leave when she learned more about the critical importance of a child’s development from ages 0-3 in her public health program -and how so few Americans can afford to bond at home with their children during this critical time. As a nurse, Zandrea witnessed firsthand the heart-wrenching decisions families were having to make to take time to heal and recover or care for loved ones. Since then, she has been a staunch advocate and organizer for paid medical and family leave. Zandrea lives in Seattle and in her free time, loves to read, hike, dance, play strategy board games, garden, and sing with her two year old daughter, Ada.