Washington State Poised to Pass Expansive Paid Family and Medical Leave Bill

June 23, 2017

Washington state legislators have reached a tentative deal for the most generous paid family and medical leave measure in the nation, with supporters of the bill and the business community agreeing in principle to legislation that would mandate employers to enroll employees in a state program giving new parents or those taking care of an ailing family member twelve weeks of paid time off.  To fund the benefit, employers with over 50 employees and all employees would pay premiums on payroll taxes, with those raised by workers covering 63 percent of the program and 100 percent of the family leave portion.  Other key elements of the proposed legislation reportedly include: 

  • A path for an employer to opt out if already offering paid leave; 
  • Portability for employees; and
  • A weekly benefit cap of $1,000, with benefits for those making less than the state's average wage receiving 90 percent of their weekly wage. 
Premiums would begin to be collected in 2019, and the benefit is slated to become available in 2020.  Last year Washington voters passed an initiative to dramatically increase the minimum wage, which, according to some, paved the way for the even more popular paid family leave mandate.  State Sen. Marko Liias (D-Lynnwood) said, "The minimum wage discussion taught business and labor an important lesson that if you don’t negotiate (in the Legislature), the ballot can be used to pass something more far-reaching."  Meanwhile, the New Jersey State Assembly passed a paid family leave bill that would expand the state's existing paid leave program to twelve weeks for reasons including the birth of a child or taking care of an ill family member.  The bill will now go to the State Senate.  If passed, it is unclear whether New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) will sign it.