Benefits of Washington paid family leave about to pay off

Dec 30, 2019, 6:59 AM
Paid family leave...
Paid family leave arrives in Washington state. (AP)

New baby? Sick family member? Unexpected medical issue? Starting in January 2020, you can start applying for benefits under Washington’s Paid Family Medical Leave program.

New Washington state laws to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020

It’s a wage replacement program that works a bit like unemployment insurance. Business and workers in the state have been paying into it over the past year to build up the fund, and now, that will pay off for those who qualify for benefits.

“I think with paid family medical leave, a lot of people think maternity and paternity leave, but it’s a lot more than that,” said Clare DeLong with the state’s Paid Family Medical Leave program.

“It covers if you have your own serious medical condition and you need to be off work; it also is for caring for a family member, and for certain military-connected events if you have a family member in active duty service,” she explained.

Only a handful of states have such programs, and Washington’s will be the strongest when the benefits become available January 1, 2020.

Workers can apply for partial wage reimbursement for at least 12 weeks when they have a qualifying family or medical event, 16 weeks if they have both, and 18 weeks in special circumstances such as a pregnancy complications.

Workers using the benefit will get up to 90 percent wage replacement depending on their normal earnings, with a maximum of $1,000 a week.

The average worker will get about 70 to 75 percent of their usual wages.

“Basically the less you make, the higher percentage of your wage you’ll get back to make it more doable for you to be able to take the leave,” DeLong said.

You can estimate how much you’ll get each week here.

To be eligible, you must have worked at least 820 hours in the prior year, and about 16 hours a week over that period.

“It really covers part time workers, full time workers, temporary, seasonal all of that — a broad range of people,” DeLong said.

Those who have worked at last 1,250 hours at a job they’ve had at least a year for businesses with more than 50 employees also qualify for job protection.

Moms, dads, non-birth parents, and guardians are all eligible to use the leave to care for a new baby, and most family members qualify as someone you’d need to take leave to take care for.

You also do not have to use all of the leave at one time, which can help in a variety of situations.

“If you have a family member who has Alzheimer’s and you need to care for them maybe one day a week when their caregiver can’t be there, you’re able to use this leave for that,” DeLong said.

Seattle students need updated immunization records before Jan. 8

New parents can use the leave for the first year of a baby’s life, so even if your child was born in 2019, you can use the leave in 2020 up through the child’s first birthday.

In order to use the benefit, you need to give your employer at least 30 days written notice of the leave you plan to take in non-emergency situations.

The first step is to apply to see if you are eligible, you can take a quick eligibility quiz here.

DeLong says workers who know they’ll need to use the leave early in 2020 should get started right away and gather all of the necessary documents. You can find out how to and get more information about the benefits here.

“We all have times where we need to take care of a family member or ourselves, this will just give people a little stability when the need to be away from work to take care of those important life things,” DeLong said.

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Benefits of Washington paid family leave about to pay off