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Family and Medical Leave

This page provides a general overview of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the paid Family and Medical Leave program, as they apply to Washington local government agencies and their employees, including examples of local policies.

It is part of MRSC’s series on Leave Laws and Policies.


Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave

Overview

Starting January 1, 2020, the Paid Family and Medical Leave Program (PFML), Ch. 50A RCW, allows qualified employees to be paid a portion of their wages, for up to 12 weeks in a 12-month period in most cases, if they miss work for: 

  • The birth of a child
  • The adoption of a younger child
  • Caring for themselves or a family member stricken with a serious illness or injury
  • Certain military connected events

Employee Eligibility

To qualify for benefits, employees must work 820 hours or more (RCW 50A.15.010), at one job or combined from multiple jobs, in the "qualifying period," defined as:

  • The first four of the last five completed calendar quarters; or
  • The last four completed calendar quarters.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) continues to provide leave benefits, but the federal program does not apply to employers with fewer than 50 employees, and the leave, if available, is unpaid.

The Employment Security Department (ESD) is responsible for administering the Paid Family and Medical Leave program. Visit paidleave.wa.gov for more detailed information regarding the program.

Employee Responsibilities

Advance Notice

Employees are required to provide notice of their intention to take family and medical leave not less than 30 days before the leave is to begin, or, in emergency situations, as soon as reasonably possible (RCW 50A.15.030).

Medical Certification

Employees are required to provide medical certification when they apply for leave benefits as part of the application process, if the leave request is for medical reasons, in order to gather sufficient information to determine whether the requested leave qualifies for coverage (RCW 50A.15.040).

Employer Responsibilities

Employers, regardless of size, are required to:

  • Collect and remit premiums from employees to the ESD (RCW 50A.20.030)
  • Report and provide information, such as employees' wages and hours worked, to the ESD on a quarterly basis (RCW 50A.20.030)
  • Post the required poster and notices in the workplace (RCW 50A.20.010 and 50A.20.020)

Premium Payments

Starting in 2019, employers are required to pay premiums to the state for the program. The employer’s share of the premiums should be considered as a salary expense for the coming year’s budget.

Although the general requirement is that both employers and employees pay a share of the required premiums, the employer’s share is waived for employers with fewer than 50 employees. Smaller jurisdictions that employ 50 people or less must nevertheless collect the employees’ share of the premium and pay these funds to the state.

The total premium is 0.4% (.004) of an employee’s wages, although payments of premiums for more highly compensated positions are capped for wages above $128,400.

The paid leave premium is split between employers and employees:

  • Employer share is approximately 37% of the 0.4% total
  • Employee share is the remaining 63% of the 0.4% total

Note that employers may—but are not required to—pay the full 0.4%.

As an example, let’s say an employee earns $3,000 per month. The total premium would be $12.00 ($3,000 x .004).

Here is how the paid family leave premium would look for employers with more than 50 employees.

Paid Family & Medical Leave Premiums – 50 Employees or More
Employee’s Monthly Wage 0.4% of Wages Withheld from Employee’s Paycheck
(63%)
Paid by Employer
(37%)
$3,000 $12.00 $7.56 $4.44

Using salary data from the first chart, here is how the paid family leave premium would look for employers with fewer than 50 employees.

Paid Family & Medical Leave Premiums – Less Than 50 Employees
Employee’s Monthly Wage 0.4% of Wages Withheld from Employee’s Paycheck
(63%)
Paid by Employer
(37%)
$3,000 $12.00 $7.56 EXEMPT

While presumably most employers will participate in the state plan, they have an option to use a voluntary plan. If the plan is approved, it may be used, provided the plan’s benefits meet or exceed the benefits provided by the state plan.

The premiums are remitted quarterly to the state with payment due at the end of the next month following the end of each quarter, according to the state Employment Security Department (ESD). You can view reporting deadlines on their website.

Reporting

Employers should be prepared to report the below information for each employee.

  • Full Name
  • Social Security Number (ITIN if no SSN)
  • Zip code of primary work location
  • Job title
  • Start date
  • Wages paid during that quarter
  • Total hours worked during that quarter

For further details on reporting, see the ESD Reporting Checklist and Reporting page.

Poster and Notices

Employers must notify employees of the Paid Family and Medical Leave Program by posting the ESD required poster in the workplace. The English and Spanish posters provided by the ESD are linked below:

Additionally, when employers become aware that an employee may be eligible for PFML benefits, they must let the employee know they may qualify through a notice. Employers are required to send this notice (see notice created by the state) within five business days.


Washington Family Leave Act

The state Family Leave Act, chapter 49.78 RCW, sunsetted December 31, 2019 when the benefits of the new Paid Family and Medical Leave Act went into effect.


Federal Family and Medical Leave Act

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 C.F.R. § 825, remains in effect and provides eligible employees with, generally, up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period for:

  • The birth of a child or placement of an adopted or foster child.
  • The serious health or emergency condition of the employee or close family member.

The FMLA provides eligible employees with:

  • Up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period for qualifying exigencies that arise when the eligible employee’s spouse, son or daughter, or parent is on covered military duty or has been notified of an impending call or order to covered military active duty.
  • Up to 26 weeks of leave in a 12-month period to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the service member’s spouse, son or daughter, parent, or next of kin.

To be eligible under the federal FMLA:

  • The employer must have 50 or more employees during 20 or more calendar months working within 75 miles of the employer’s worksite.
  • The employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months (they need to be consecutive).

The leave is unpaid, although it can be substituted for accrued paid leave, such as vacation or sick leave. Typically, the leave is taken during a continuous period, although it can be taken intermittently or on a reduced leave schedule under certain medical conditions.

Enforcement of the FMLA provisions is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD).

Health Benefits Protection

An employee who takes FMLA leave is entitled to maintain health benefits coverage during the leave (29 C.F.R. § 825.209).

Notice/Poster Display Requirement

The FMLA requires that covered employers display and keep displayed the text of the WHD’s Family and Leave Act Notice, which describes the major provisions of the act.


Examples of Local Policies

Below are examples of policies adopted after the state paid family and medical leave legislation was adopted and that add specific language regarding the program.

Below are examples of policies adopted before the state paid family and medical leave legislation was passed in 2017.

  • Vancouver Family and Medical Leave Policy (2014) – A very detailed policy set out in question and answer format, covering many aspects related to the leave.
  • Tumwater FML Personnel Policy (2017) – A comprehensive standard policy addressing various requirements and processes under the FMLA.
  • Mesa Family and Medical Leave Policy (2014) – Although the city is not required to provide its employees with family and medical leave because it employs less than 50 employees, it still provides a comparable 12 week leave benefit to its employees.

Recommended Resources

Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave

The below links are from the WA Employment Security Department (ESD) website:

Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The below links are from the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division website:


Last Modified: January 08, 2020