Last Friday the Legislature passed paid family and medical leave.
Beginning in 2020, employees will be able to take paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child, to take care of an ill family member, when a family member is deployed or wounded in military service, or for their own serious health condition.
This is a big victory for everyone in our state - families and businesses alike.
GSBA has been working with legislators all year to share the voice of our membership. In a survey we did of our members earlier in the year, 82% supported a statewide paid family leave policy. Major concerns raised by our members included impacts on unemployment insurance, the ability of small businesses to pay for this new system, the portability of the benefit, and the length of the benefit. Other points that GSBA pushed for included:
- a social insurance model
- a consistent statewide policy
- consistent definitions with existing policies, including full coverage for LGBT families
- preserving the ability of employers to provide additional benefits
- a progressive benefit model allowing low-income employees to receive a higher level of support so that taking leave is a viable option
The final negotiated plans takes all these concerns into account and small businesses should feel confident that their voice was both heard and taken into account in a process that so often does not.
Highlights of the bill include:
- 12 weeks of family leave and 12 weeks of medical leave (can be combined for up to 16 weeks of total leave per year)
- Provides a uniform statewide system that follows employees when they change jobs or move locations. Local governments cannot pass their own leave laws.
- Workers receive up to 90% of wages, to a maximum of $1,000/week
- Employees and employees share the funding, with employee premiums covering 100% of the family leave and a joint 55% employer and 45% employee funding of the medical leave portion.
- Companies with a more generous plan can apply for a waiver
- Small businesses under 50 employees will not pay premiums at all
- Employers with 150 or fewer employees are eligible for grants up to $3,000 for the hiring of temporary workers to replace an employee on leave for 7 or more days, or up to $1,000 for reimbursement for significant additional wage-related costs.
- An employer can request relief of unemployment insurance benefits charges that result from temporary replacement hires being laid off.
The United States remains one of the only industrialized economies without a nationwide paid family leave program. GSBA believes that no one should face economic insecurity due to a medical situation or welcoming a new child to the family. Washington's plan offers the highest wage replacement plan in the country, and one that is fully portable between employers and locations. These benefits are proven to improve employee retention and reduce working training and turnover costs. This bill was a fair and reasonable negotiation between employee and employer groups, and represents a significantly better option than potential initiatives that were discussed. The plan appropriately recognizes the realities of small business and find a way for their employees to participate without crippling them, including by offering grants to train temporary workers filling in for those on leave. It maintains federal Family Medical Leave Act job protections to avoid costly duplicative standards and to ease administration and predictability of program for employers.
GSBA would like to thank Senators Karen Keiser
and Joe Fain
in particular for leading on this issue throughout the session.