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Elected Officials and Benefits Programs

May 8, 2019  by  Paul Sullivan
Category:  Compensation Leave Policies

Elected Officials and Benefits Programs

Are elected officials covered by various state employee programs? The simple, and confusing, answer is: They are, unless they are not. Let’s look at this using some standard benefits programs.

The Paid Family and Medical Leave Act

Cities, counties, and special purpose districts have begun to deduct amounts from employees’ paychecks for premiums to pay for the state Paid Family and Medical Leave Act (PFMLA) benefits. A logical question has arisen: Are elected officials covered by the Act and thus, are they required to pay premiums?

Normally an elected official is not considered to be an employee. But what is normal does not necessarily apply in every situation. For example, RCW 50A.04.115 requires an employee to pay for a portion of the cost of benefits available under the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act. According to RCW 50A.04.010(4)(a), an employee is an individual “who is in the employment of an employer.” Thus, one would think that an elected official, one who is elected into a position rather than being hired, does not meet the definition of an employee. According to the Employment Security Department (ESD), the state agency that enforces the PFMLA, an elected official should be treated as a salaried employee and required to pay premiums. Some jurisdictions are questioning the ESD’s conclusion, but for now, premiums must be paid by elected officials.

The Paid Sick Leave Act

Okay, an elected official is considered an employee under the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act: Does that mean he or she is covered as an employee under the Paid Sick Leave Act?

Paid sick leave (RCW 49.46.200) provides paid leave from work so employees can care for themselves or family members who are ill, injured, and/or in in other situations requiring time off work. But the leave is only for employees, and the term “employee” specifically excludes “any individual who holds a public elective or appointive office.”

Workers’ Compensation

Elected officials will be relieved to know that they are covered under workers’ compensation, as RCW 51.32.010 requires that any “worker” who is injured while on the job be entitled to compensation.

Under workers’ compensation the term “worker” has the same definition as does an “employee.” However, the term also covers “all officers of the state, state agencies, counties, municipal corporations, or other public corporations, or political subdivisions.” There is no exclusion of elected officials (see RCW 51.12.020). Under WAC 296-17A-5305, there is a workers’ compensation classification for “clerical office, administrative employees, and elected officials of cities and towns.”

Retirement Benefits

If a jurisdiction provides retirement benefits under a state Department of Retirement Systems plan, all qualifying employees must be covered under the plan (see RCW 41.40.023), but persons holding an elective office are not automatically covered. To be a member, the jurisdiction must cover its employees and the elected officials must apply for membership (see  RCW 41.40.023(3)(a)).

Unemployment Compensation

Elected officials are not employed—as they are not an employee of a local government—and thus, they are not eligible for unemployment compensation. See, generally, RCW 50.04.140.

Federal Income Tax, Social Security, and Medicare

While an elected official may not qualify for paid sick leave, he or she is nevertheless required to pay income taxes, Social Security, and Medicare payments. Whether you are an employee or an official of a local government doesn’t matter: You must pay all of these items.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Paul Sullivan

Paul worked with many local governments and authored numerous MRSC publications on local elections, ordinances, and general local government operations in his many years at MRSC. He is now retired.



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