Gov. Inslee signs ‘best-in-nation' paid family leave program

VIDEO: Paid family leave

Washington state is now among just a handful of states that guarantee paid family leave, following Gov. Jay Inslee's signing Wednesday of a bipartisan plan approved by the Legislature.

Why lawmakers passed the bill

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The Washington State Legislature passed Senate Bill 5975 when it signed a two-year $43.7 billion state operating budget, narrowly avoiding a partial government shutdown.

Lawmakers say the demands of the workplace and families need to be balanced to achieve personal stability and economic security.

Under SB 5975, workers can take extended paid leave for a new child, a severely ill family member, or the worker's own serious health condition.

What it means for workers

The bill offers eligible workers 12 weeks of either leave beginning in 2020, or 16 weeks for a combination of both. An additional two weeks may be used if there is a serious health condition with a pregnancy.

What it means for workers and employers

Under the measure proposed in Washington state, both employers and employees pay into the system, and weekly benefits are calculated based on a percentage of the employee’s wages and the state’s weekly average wage — which is currently $1,082 — though the weekly amount paid out would be capped at $1,000 a week. Workers who earn less than the state average would get 90 percent of their income.

Self-employed individuals who elect coverage pay only the employee share of the premiums, and employers with 50 or fewer employees are exempt from paying the employer share of the premiums. Companies that already offer such programs can opt out, as long as their are at least equivalent to the state program.

Premiums of 0.4 percent of wages would start being collected on Jan. 1, 2019, with 63 percent paid by employees and 37 percent paid by the employers.

According to a Senate calculator, an employee who makes $50,000 a year would pay $2.42 a week, while their employer would pay $1.42 a week, for a weekly benefit of about $703.

How it closes a loop

The bill closes the loop on work left unfinished by the 2007 Legislature. That year, lawmakers created a paid family leave program that required many employers to offer five weeks of paid time off for new parents. But they never came up with a way to pay for the benefit, resulting in an indefinite delay of its implementation.

Which states offer paid leave?

Currently, just four states guarantee paid family leave: California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York, though New York’s program doesn’t take effect until next year. The District of Columbia earlier this year also approved a paid family leave program, though it doesn’t take effect until July 2020.