Pregnancy, Maternity Leave, and Paternity Leave in Washington State
Maternity and paternity leave for employees working in Washington state is a right under federal and state law, for certain eligible employees. In addition, birth mothers may be entitled to take additional time off under a state anti-discrimination law.
How Much Maternity Leave Am I Entitled To Take?
Under the federal law, FMLA, eligible employees are allowed to take at least 12 weeks of job-protected leave in a 12 month period. Under Washington State’s Family Leave Act (FLA), eligible employees are also allowed to take 12 weeks of job-protected leave in a 12 month period following the birth or adoption of a child. FMLA and FLA run concurrently if you qualify for both, so that means a total of 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave.
In addition, under Washington’s Law Against Discrimination, you may qualify for pregnancy disability leave if you are eligible and this is certified by your health care provider. Typically this is between 6-8 weeks depending on the type of birth you have.
If you qualify for both FLA and pregnancy disability, you will typically be entitled to 6+12=18 weeks of maternity leave.
What About Paternity Leave?
FLA and FMLA are gender-neutral so applies to both fathers and mothers. However, FLA is available for registered domestic partners whereas FMLA is not. Pregnancy disability is obviously only available to the pregnant parent.
Am I Eligible for FMLA, FLA, or Pregnancy Disability Leave?
The eligibility requirements for FMLA and FLA are nearly identical. To qualify, you must have worked for your employer at least 1,250 hours in the 12 month period preceding your requested leave. Your employer also must have employed at least 50 employees for 20 workweeks (in the current or prior calendar year) within 75 miles of your worksite in order to be covered under the laws.
To qualify for pregnancy disability leave, you must work for a company with at least 8 employees if pregnancy-related conditions disable you from working. The law technically treats pregnancy and childbirth recovery as any other short-term disability and requires that employers must treat these “disabilities” the same as any other short-term disability. In other words, your employer cannot require special notice, or benefit changes unless they do so as a matter of policy for all other employees who may encounter a short-term disability.
What If I Qualify for FMLA, FLA and/or Pregnancy Disability Leave?
FLA and FMLA run concurrently, meaning that if you qualify for both, then the maximum time period for your leave is 12 weeks. Pregnancy disability, however, runs before FLA kicks in so if you qualify for both FLA and pregnancy disability, you will probably at least 18 weeks of unpaid leave because FLA and pregnancy disability do not run concurrently.
Do I Get Paid During My Maternity or Paternity Leave?
Some employers may offer paid maternity or paternity leave but this is a voluntary benefit and not required under either federal nor state law. In 2007, Washington state passed a Family Leave Insurance program but it has not yet been implemented due to no appropriations to fund the bill. In the meantime, you can elect to take out private short-term disability insurance to cover lost wages during your pregnancy (though you typically have to do this before you become pregnant). You cannot unfortunately collect unemployment benefits during your leave. Read our piece on tips for how to survive an unpaid maternity leave.
What If I Have Other Questions?
We are not attorneys and have only attempted to summarize publicly available information regarding your maternity leave and pregnancy rights. You may consult Washington State’s Family Leave Act Q&A and the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division for further information about FMLA. If you believe your FLA rights have been violated, you may also file a complaint.
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