Washington State Paid Leave and Medical Leave—Requirements start Jan. 1, 2019

The State of Washington Legislature passed the Paid Leave and Medical Leave law back in 2017. The program, administered by the Washington Employment Security Department (ESD), will begin collecting premiums from employers and employees on January 1, 2019. Eligible individuals may apply for benefits starting January 1, 2020.

We’ve summarized the highlights below including links and phone numbers.

What is it? Washington State proclaims that in 2020, their paid leave and medical leave program will be “the strongest in the nation and a model for other states.” The program can be provided via the state program or an employer-funded (voluntary) model.

If an employer opts into the state program, the premium is .4 percent of each employee’s gross wages, minus tips. Employers may split the premium with the employees, charging the employee no more than .63 percent of the total premium.

Employers must remit premiums to WA Employment Services Department (ESD) on a quarterly basis starting April 2019.

Read more by downloading the employer toolkit found on this page.

Which employers must comply? Businesses with employees working in WA, regardless of size. The only exceptions are federally recognized tribes, federal employees, self-employed individuals and some employees subject to collective bargaining agreements

Which employees are eligible for this program? Employees working in Washington must work 820 hours or more in the qualifying period. The qualifying period is either the 1) first four of the last five completed calendar quarters or 2) the last four completed calendar quarters.

When does the program start? The employee benefits for the program start on January 1, 2020. Notices must be provided to employees in 2019.

Premium collection begins January 1, 2019.

Reporting to WA ESD starts on April 1, 2019.

Does business size matter? Yes, for certain purposes. Although, all size businesses are required to provide the benefits of the program.

Businesses with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from the employer portion of the premium. However, the employee share of the premium must still be remitted.  The determination of size for compliance appears to be based on the count of employees deemed to be working in WA.

This information is not clear, though. ESD will determine the size of your business (for this program purpose) based on your first quarter report. Based on the website, your employer won’t receive ESD’s calculation of business size until after the first quarter report is filed.

Can an employer opt out? No, an employer must offer these benefits to WA state employees. These benefits can be through the state program or via an employer-funded program (voluntary) as long as the benefits meet or exceed the state plan.

If your employer would like to opt out of the state program, please click here for more information. Your company’s voluntary plan must be approved by the ESD before benefits are offered to employees.

Bottom Line:  If you have employees in Washington State, contact your payroll company to set up payroll deductions starting Jan. 1, 2019 unless your employer will be creating (or already has) a voluntary plan that meets or exceeds the WA Paid Leave requirements.

Please note that some program details are still under development.

Please visit https://www.paidleave.wa.gov/ for updates. You may also click here to sign up for  updates via the ESD listserv. Finally, contact the WA Paid Leave customer care team at 833-717-2273 for specific questions not yet addressed on their website.

About Michelle Cammayo

Michelle Cammayo has more than 13 years of Employee Benefits experience specializing in all lines of health and welfare benefits. Today, Michelle works closely with clients and partners to provide guidance in areas of the law including ERISA, HIPAA, COBRA, FMLA and PPACA. She also oversees the Compliance Department at Bolton & Company to ensure we are helping our clients manage and eliminate risk with regards to employee benefit compliance.

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