Paid Family and Medical Leave in Washington State

Paid Family and Medical Leave in Washington State

After many months of thoughtful, strategic planning by Democrats, Republicans, businesses and labor, Washington has a balanced, bipartisan law to create statewide paid family and medical leave. The bill was signed by Gov. Inslee on July 5, 2017  (see the video) and becomes law 90 days later. Benefits will be available Jan. 1, 2020.

See the full details of the new law


In 2007, the state created a family leave program, but the law did not fulfill its potential because the Washington State Legislature was unable to pay for it.

In the meantime, Washington’s hospitality industry has been more significantly impacted by voter initiatives than any other industry in the state. They’ve been hard hit by minimum wage initiatives and local initiatives, some directly targeting hospitality businesses, that established local minimum wages, paid sick and safe leave requirements and employment standards. These initiatives have unintended consequences for businesses and employees.

In 2017, bills were introduced that would create a statewide paid family leave policy. The bills varied in amount of time off offered, how it was funded, if it was phased-in and more. You can read more about them on the state legislative website here: House Bill 1116 and here: Senate Bill 5149.

Our association invested with other business associations in a statewide voter survey on paid family leave. That data predicted with great certainty that, absent action by the state legislature, an initiative to establish a statewide paid family leave policy would go before voters, and pass, by 2019 at the latest.

Washington Hospitality was selected by legislators to participate negotiations to find a solution that met the needs of all stakeholders. Our association worked with Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, Senate Majority Deputy Leader Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, Democratic lawmakers and labor representatives to see if a reasonable solution was possible.

However, the final bill that passed was a compromise that benefited all. Senate Bill 5975 is the strongest policy on paid family leave in the nation for both employees and employers.

Why Paid Family and Medical Leave in WA is good for Hospitality 

  • Small Business Exemption: businesses with fewer than 50 employees (which represents 96% of all businesses in the state) are exempt. This allows small businesses to decide if they can afford the cost and opt-in. The states that have adopted Paid Family and Medical Leave programs do not contemplate the impact to small businesses. We are the first in the nation and setting the tone for the rest of the country which will undoubtedly be working through this in the near future.
  • Small & Medium Sized Business Assistance: Businesses with fewer than 150 employees are able to receive financial assistance when needing to hire a temporary employee to cover duties while an employee is out on leave, or when training and overtime costs are incurred. No other state provides any assistance to small and medium sized businesses.
  • Large Business Flexibility: For businesses who already have superior leave programs, there is an ability to
    waive out of the state program. Businesses will be able to decide what is best for them and their
    employees. Larger businesses, who already offer paid leave but choose to join the state program, could see a cost reduction from enjoying the benefits of a state-wide insurance pool.
  • All Businesses Will Receive Relief from UI Charges: Businesses who hire a temporary worker to cover the
    duties of an employee on leave will not be charged for the layoff experience when the employee returns.
  • No New Requirements: Unlike some states that have adopted paid family leave programs, there will not be any new job retention or health coverage requirements of employers, beyond the federal requirements
    under FMLA.
  • The Program Is Not an Overreach: The length of time employees can be on leave is consistent with FMLA,
    and provides additional time for very narrow circumstances.
  • Prohibits Local Governments from Enacting Separate Programs: This is a critical element of the proposal,
    and we believe will set the parameters for other statewide discussions around new labor policy.


Additional Resources

Paid Family Leave Webinar

Paid Family Leave Joint Business PR

Paid Family Leave Invite to Celebrate the Bill Signing

Roundup of paid family leave in other states

Read more