Informational meeting provides insight on paid family, medical leave program
Last updated 7/26/2018 at Noon
Representatives from the Employment Security Department (ESD) presented locally regarding the upcoming paid family and medical leave program, which benefits will be available starting in January 2020 with premiums beginning collection in 2019.
The informational meeting was sponsored by Adams County, Adams County Development Council and Uniquely Washington at WSU Extension on July 18.
The program is available for any individual employed in the State of Washington who works an accumulated 820 hours a year.
The new statewide insurance program is aimed at allowing employees paid time off to care for themselves or family members. The program is a self-sustaining as it is funded by premiums paid by both employees and employers.
ESD Communications Manager Clare DeLong explained the technology for the program is still being developed, and it is only in the second phase of planning.
The timeline has been approved, but the rules are still being established. DeLong explained the current draft of rules is available on the ESD website.
The creation of the paid family and medical leave program is the fifth statewide program established in the United States, DeLong stated. This makes Washington competitive in attracted potential employees to the state.
The program allows individuals to take paid time off work to deal with personal medical issues or those within their families, with restrictions. The leave time covers situations such as cancer treatments, back injury or caring for a family member recovering from an opioid addiction.
ESD Communications Manager and Director Silvia Lugo clarified this program is not the same as the sick leave law that went into effect in January 2018, which is a program through LNI. The ESD program legislation was passed last year, and allows for self-employed individuals to opt into the program.
Lugo explained the compensation ranges from a weekly minimum of $100 and weekly maximum of $1,000. The wage is determined by the employees earned wages, the state median income and other factors. Employees are entitled to 12 weeks of leave time through the program.
To be eligible for the program, an employee must have worked 820 hours in the previous year, which is applicable across multiple jobs. Employees must have worked four of the previous five quarters.
Employee premiums account for .4 percent of the gross paycheck, with 63 percent being paid by the employee. Employers who have 50 employees or less do not have to contribute to the program but can voluntarily opt into the program.
DeLong explained based on a $50,000 yearly salary, it would cost the employee about $2.40 per week.
For employers who already have short term disability plans in place that match or exceed the minimums of the state program, the company can apply for a waiver to withdraw from the program.
All employees eligible for the program must be reported to ESD quarterly, DeLong explained. The reporting will be completed online and reporting starts in 2019. Reporting will include employee information like name, social security number, quarterly wages, hours worked, start date and zip code.
The reporting is completed concurrently with FMLA, and can be applied for at the same time. DeLong explained while the program does not align exactly with FMLA, it is very similar.
Lugo explained there is a Small Business Assistance Grant available for small businesses who offer the plan. The grants are up to $1,000 for additional wage-connected costs, with up to $3,000 available per employee per year.
Businesses who voluntarily sign up for the program must commit to three years within the program. The voluntary application period opens in September, as does businesses opportunity to apply for a waiver to withdraw from the program.
There is a $250 application fee, and the voluntary plan can be established for both medical and family leave, or just one of the programs. Employers also have the opportunity to cover the full expense for employees in the program.
With the recent LNI sick leave law in effect, Lugo explained employees cannot collect from both programs at the same time. The program to draw from is at the discretion of the employee.
Lugo added for scheduled time off, employees are still required to provide a 30-day notice.
For seasonal employees, included farm laborers, they can still be covered under the plan if they meet the eligibility requirements. Employees participating in the program cannot collect unemployment, Lugo added.
DeLong explained ESD is working with other state agencies in order to provide updated information to employers. She said individuals can visit review and comment on the proposed rules online, but all of the rules will be finalized in November.
Starting in 2019, premiums will begin to be withheld, and wages and hours must be reported to ESD. DeLong explained the voluntary plan can be applied to throughout the year.
There are currently webinars online to inform employees and employers about the new program. DeLong said ESD is continuing to provide outreach in communities, and expects a secondary trip will be made to Ritzville before the conclusion of the year.
DeLong explained there is a frequently asked question page, as well as a benefit contribution calculator available online. This will help employers and employees with general comprehension of the program.
An employer tool kit will also be released to assist with accessibility and understanding of the program.
For more information on the ESD paid family and medical leave program, visit esd.wa.gov/paid-family-medical-leave.