On January 5, 2017, Washington State passed into law the most generous paid parental leave and sick leave laws for employees, within the United States. Those benefits do not go into effect until after January 1, 2020. If you are having a baby prior to 2020, please see the information below about the family medical leave rights and benefits you receive under state and federal law as a Washington state employee.
Technically, Washington has had a paid parental leave law approved since 2007 that offers parents the right to five weeks of paid leave, but it has taken a decade for the funding component of the law to be passed. As of 2019, there is now a funding plan and implementation date for the parental leave benefits described below.
If you're having a baby after January 1, 2020
Eligible employees (mothers as well as fathers) in Washington state will have the right to 12 paid weeks of parental leave upon the birth or adoption of a child. If pregnancy creates a serious health condition, an additional two weeks of paid leave can be taken. Finally, paid leave will also be available to employees if they or a family member has a serious health condition. In other words, if your new baby has a medical condition that requires you take off additional time, in addition to the 12 weeks of paid leave you receive, you will be eligible for another four weeks of paid time off (for a total of 16 paid weeks off).
The pay that employees will receive is going to be based on the percentage of the employee's wages and state's weekly average wage (as of the law's passage, $1,082) — and capped at $1,000 a week. Workers who earn less than the weekly state average wage will be able to receive at least 90 percent of their income under this pay leave law.
To be eligible, employees must have worked at least 820 hours before qualifying for the benefit. The paid leave and medical leave (or sick leave) benefits will be funded by a combination of employees paying a percentage of their wages to pay for the benefit as well as employers doing the same on behalf of their employees. Small employers (with those less than 50 employees) can opt out of paying the employer's share and self-employed employees who elect coverage may qualify so long as they pay the employee share of their premiums. Collections for payment (0.4% of wages) will begin in 2019 with employers paying for 37% and employees paying for 63% of the new benefit.
If you're having a baby before January 1, 2020
Unfortunately, the benefits described above only pertain to those Washington state employees who take parental leave or sick leave after January 1, 2020. 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 job-protected but unpaid 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, before you are expected to return to work.
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 this applies to both fathers and mothers. However, FLA is available for registered domestic partners whereas FMLA is not. Pregnancy short-term disability insurance is obviously only available to the pregnant parent.
How about military caregiver Leave — how does that work?
This has a slightly less direct correlation to pregnancy and childbearing. But as a military caregiver in Washington State, you’re eligible for up to 26 workweeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period to care for a covered, active duty service member with a major illness or injury, if the service member is an approved family member. Similarly, you may also be eligible for up to 12 workweeks of unpaid exigency leave during a 12-month period during a 12-month period if an employee’s approved family member (spouse, child, or parent) is on covered or active duty.
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 eight 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 require short-term disability insurance.
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 or 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 labor 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.