Washington's new paid family leave law: What you need to know
Trisha McClanahan, with her husband, son and 2-day-old daughter, will benefit from paid family leave.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
It’s happening! It’s finally happening! Blessed mercy! Glorious relief! No, I’m not about to take an uninterrupted shower. That sweet day remains just out of reach.
I’m talking about paid family and medical leave, which takes effect in Washington in 2020. Do you need to pause and read that last sentence again? Go ahead. It is happening. Can I get a “Heck yeah?” (This is a family magazine, or I’d be using a different four-letter word).
Trisha McClanahan knows what a game-changer paid leave can be.
McClanahan, who lives in Seward Park with her husband, 2-year-old son and newborn daughter, was able to take 16 weeks of paid leave through her employer. “It’s huge,” she says. “Those first four months, he needed me so much. And the sleep! It meant a lot to have that time, to get paid, and to know my career was waiting for me.”
Now that precious time and support will be available to most of Washington’s workers. If you’ve worked at least 820 hours in the state of Washington in 2019 (about 16 hours a week), and you aren’t a federal employee, or employed by a company that already offers voluntary paid family and medical leave, and you’ve experienced a qualifying family or medical event, then you’re eligible to apply for paid leave. What is a qualifying event? Let me introduce you to some totally real, not at all conveniently hypothetical friends of mine:
• Louis and James are adopting in 2020. At least 12 weeks of family leave is available for them, and for any parents expecting a birth, welcoming a foster child, or adopting in 2020. Giving birth may qualify you for 16 weeks, and complications in the pregnancy may get you 18 weeks. You can take all your leave at once, or you can space it out in any way that works for you.
• Danielle had a baby on Halloween night 2019. Trick or treat, am I right? Danielle can still apply for paid family leave in 2020, as can any family that welcomed a foster or adopted child in 2019. She just needs to use her paid leave by one year from the child’s arrival date.
• Rick struggles to manage his chronic clinical depression, and our 3 p.m. sunsets aren’t helping. He can take leave to receive inpatient treatment for mental health or an addiction. Rick’s partner, Elena, has epilepsy, and can take leave to receive treatment for a chronic health condition.
• Moira’s wife, Rebecca, is undergoing a hysterectomy. Rebeccca can take paid leave for her surgery and recovery, and since Rebecca won’t be putting on her own pants for a few weeks, Moira can take leave to care for a family member.
• Sara’s husband serves in the military. She can request paid family leave to spend time with him while he’s home on R&R.
To apply for leave, inform your employer as soon as possible. “As soon as you know, the better,” says People Generalist Katie Russell at digital advertising startup New Engen. “The only thing I can guarantee about rolling out a new program is that there will be some bumps,” she adds. “So remember we’re all in this together, and we’ll learn along the way.”
Then, starting on January 2, apply for leave at paidleave.wa.gov.
“Educate yourself on your responsibilities and be as prepared as you can be,” Russell advises. You’ll need to provide paperwork: a birth certificate, court documents for foster/adoption placements, active duty orders, a letter from a doctor. Once your leave is approved, you’ll file weekly requests for pay in the same way you’d submit a timecard.
While on leave, you’ll receive up to $1,000 a week, an amount proportionate to your income; paidleave.wa.gov will provide a benefit calculator so you can estimate your likely income.
If you’re self-employed, you have to opt into the paid family and medical leave program, which you can do through paidleave.wa.gov.
When I had my kids, the idea of paid leave was as outlandish as winning the lottery. Today, we can stop dreaming of a time when our families don’t have to choose between work, family and health.
As Russell says, “This is a step in the right direction, towards thinking about each person as a whole.”
Can I get a “Heck yeah?”