Navigating Washington Paid Family Medical Leave (WA PFML): A Brief Guide for Employers

The Washington Paid Family Medical Leave Act (WA PFML) provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks and, in some cases, as much as 18 weeks of paid leave in a 12-month period for specific family and medical reasons. Employers must understand the intricacies of the law and how it intersects with other leave regulations to ensure seamless compliance. This article serves as a guide for Washington employers with critical takeaways for understanding and applying this law.

Essential Considerations for Employers

There are several important takeaways for employers to consider when complying with WA PFMontribution rates and payroll requirements:

1. Which employers need to comply:

WA PFML applies to nearly every employer who has at least one employee working in Washington state. This includes private and public employers as well as non-profit, charities, and faith organizations of any size. Exclusions include federally recognized tribes, federal employers, some employers subject to collective bargaining agreements, and employers who have approved conditional waivers.

2. Eligibility Criteria:

To qualify for benefits under WA PFML, employees must have worked for covered employers for at least 820 hours during the past year. Accrued time includes all hours worked in Washington state, regardless of the employer. Eligibility is extended to full-time, part-time, temporary, and seasonal employees. Employees must notify their employer of their intention to take WA PFML leave. The notice should be provided thirty days prior to taking leave, or if unforeseeable, notice must be provided as soon as the employee is able and in writing.

3. Benefits and Qualifying Events:

Approved employees are eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid leave. Employees with more than one qualifying event may be eligible for 16 weeks of paid leave. Employees who experience a condition related to pregnancy that results in incapacity may be eligible for 18 weeks of paid leave.

Qualifying events include:

  • Serious health condition of the employee
  • Serious health condition of a family member
  • Parental leave or time to bond with a child
  • A family member’s overseas military deployment or return
  • Bereavement after the death of a child.

What is a serious health condition?

Here’s an overview of what constitutes a serious health condition under WA PFML:

  • Inpatient care:
    A serious health condition includes any illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that requires an individual to receive inpatient care in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical care facility, including a period of incapacity.
  • Continuing treatment:
    A serious health condition can also involve continuing treatment by a healthcare provider. This typically includes circumstances where the employee or their family member cannot perform regular daily activities due to the condition. It may involve one or more of the following:

    • Incapacity or treatment:
      The individual is incapacitated for more than three consecutive days and subsequent treatment, such as visits to a doctor’s office, hospital visits, or other medical procedures.
    • Chronic conditions: 
      Conditions requiring periodic visits for treatment by a healthcare provider (e.g., asthma, diabetes) that may lead to episodes of incapacity.
    • Permanent or long-term conditions:
      Conditions requiring supervision but not active treatment, like Alzheimer’s disease or severe stroke recovery.
  • Certification by a Healthcare Provider:
    In many cases, an employee seeking WA PFML leave for their own serious health condition will need to provide certification from a healthcare provider to verify the need for leave. This certification should include details about the condition’s diagnosis, treatment, and expected duration.

What is a family member?

Under WA PFML, a family member refers to specific individuals who are considered close relatives for whom an eligible employee can take leave to provide care or support. Family members include:

  • Spouses and domestic partners
  • Children (biological, adopted, foster, or stepchild)
  • Parents and legal guardians (or spouse’s parents)
  • Siblings
  • Grandchildren
  • Grandparents (or spouse’s grandparents)
  • Son-in-law and daughter-in-law
  • Someone who has an expectation to rely on you for care—whether you live together or not.

Job protection:

Employees who qualify for and take WA PFML leave are entitled to job protection. This means they have the right to return to their job or an equivalent position after their leave period ends. However, Job protection is not required if any of the following is true:

  • Your company employs fewer than 50 people
  • The employee worked for the company for less than a year
  • The employee has worked less than 1,250 hours for the company in the year before taking leave

Intermittent or reduced schedule leave:

Eligible employees can take leave under WA PFML intermittently; however, they must take a minimum of eight consecutive hours of leave within any week in which leave is claimed.

4. Voluntary plans:

Washington employers who offer benefit plans that match or exceed the benefits provided by WA PFML may seek a voluntary plan exemption. The state maintains a list of employers with an approved voluntary plan.

Navigating Compliance and Implementation

  • Post clear and informative notices about WA PFML detailing employees’ rights and the process for filing claims.
  • Grant approved employees the time off and job protection they are entitled to under the law.
  • Create clear and comprehensive written policies outlining your organization’s procedures for requesting and taking leave under WA PFML and any benefits and protections offered.
  • Ensure your leadership teams are trained on recognizing potential employee’s leave needs and understand anti-retaliation provisions.
  • Inform eligible employees about their rights and responsibilities under WA PFML, including how to request leave, what documentation might be required, and what benefits they can expect.
  • Understand how WA PFML interacts with other leave laws, both federal and state-specific, and ensure appropriate coordination.

Convergence of Laws

Washington employers must comply with many laws related to employee leave that intersect with WA PFML at the federal, state, and regional levels. Managing the convergence of multiple leave laws requires careful attention, organization, and a commitment to understanding and adhering to the intricacies of each law.

  • Differences in the laws:
    Where the laws differ, the employer is legally required to apply the standards most beneficial to the employee.
  • Overlapping qualifying reasons:
    Unless otherwise expressly permitted by the employer, WA PFML leave must be taken concurrently with leave available under FMLA and some other WA-specific leave laws where the qualifying reasons overlap. When an employee takes leave for pregnancy disability under both the PFML law and Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), for example, the two leaves will run concurrently, but an employee’s PFML entitlement or eligibility does not limit the amount of pregnancy disability leave to which the employee may be entitled under the WLAD. It is important for employers to understand the intricacies of consecutive versus concurrent leave and how they apply to each leave law and leave case.
  • Unique qualifying reasons:
    Leave taken for qualifying reasons unique to any of the laws does not count against the balance of leave for the other regulations. For example, an employee who has exhausted their WA PFMLA leave to care for a grandparent can take additional leave under FMLA for pregnancy because FMLA does not count caring for a grandparent as a qualifying reason.

Remember that laws can change, and there may have been developments or updates since the publishing of this article. Employers should refer to the Employment Security Department (ESD) or the Washington State Human Rights Commission for the most current and accurate information about WA PFML compliance.

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