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Governor Jay Inslee (D) signed paid family and medical leave legislation into law (WA SSB 5975) yesterday, making Washington the fifth state to enact a paid family leave program. California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have existing programs, and New York enacted paid family leave legislation last year, which is scheduled to launch in 2018.

Washington's program is scheduled to fully launch in 2020, and will apply to all employers in the state with more than 50 employees and that do not already offer equivalent benefits. The law requires both employers and employees to pay into an insurance system at premiums of 0.4 percent of wages (employers would pay a 37-percent share and employees 63 percent). Employers and employees will begin paying premiums on wages in 2019 before the benefits kick in on January 1, 2020.

The program will provide 12 weeks for paid family leave (e.g., caring for a newborn or sick family member), 12 weeks of paid medical leave (e.g., when an employee or family member suffers from a serious medical condition), or 16 weeks of combined leave (allowing an additional two weeks for serious health complications from pregnancy). Washington state's twelve weeks of paid leave matches the maximum leave duration that New York's program is scheduled to provide in 2021 and at least double the duration of current programs in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

According to the Associated Press, “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.”

Paid family and medical leave continues to be a popular issue in the states. We've tracked nearly 50 state-level bills on the subject during the 2017 legislative sessions.

Map of Paid Family Leave Legislation

One implementation hurdle for states looking to enact paid medical leave programs is that only five states — California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, and Hawaii — have temporary disability insurance programs, which provide an established, simple way to fund a paid leave program. Hawaii is the only state with a temporary disability program that does not also offer paid family leave. The difficulty of setting up a paid family leave program without an established temporary disability insurance program has slowed the spread of paid family leave mandates in the states.

For example, before the deal struck this year, Washington state lawmakers passed a paid leave mandate in 2007, but because Washington didn't have a state temporary disability insurance program at the time, state officials had to find a new way to fund the program. Without any obvious solutions, Washington's governor was forced to suspend the program in 2008. However, this year, Washington lawmakers decided to try to implement a paid family leave program again, this time with a plan for funding the program.

Under federal law, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) applies to employers with 50 or more employees and provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period to care for a family member, newborn, or adopted or foster child, or to attend to an employee’s own serious medical health condition. States will continue to explore how to expand the FMLA to mandate guaranteed paid leave for employees to address family or medical issues.