Washington’s paid family and medical leave legislation: A win for employees and businesses alike.

Washington’s paid family and medical leave legislation: A win for employees and businesses alike.

The 2107  legislative session delivered a huge win for the hospitality industry: the passage of Senate Bill 5975 which establishes a paid family and medical leave program at the state level. On July 5, in a rare demonstration of bipartisan agreement, legislators, business leaders, and labor reps celebrated Gov. Inslee’s signing the bill into law.

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, from I-688 in 1998 which established annual increases in the minimum wage tied to inflation to last year’s I-1433 which not only increased the state minimum wage to $13.50/hour by 2020, it established a paid sick leave requirement without a mechanism to pay for leave.

Washington Hospitality, and its precursors the Washington Restaurant Association and the Washington Lodging Association, have long advocated that the state legislature is where employment-related policy and programs should be addressed. Legislatures work by consensus-building and generally create more carefully thought-out policies. The initiative process, on the other hand, leads to blunt, one-sided policy that fails to take all possible consequences of a proposal into account. And when employment law is enacted at the local level, it creates a patchwork of requirements that become a nightmare for businesses that cross city boundaries.

With this in mind, in early 2017, the 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. This year, with the Majority Coalition Caucus in control of the State Senate as our greatest strength, the Association partnered with lawmakers to create a state paid family and medical leave program that would work for businesses, employees and the entire state.

Washington Hospitality was selected by legislators to participate in the crafting of the paid leave bill. 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.

As a result of our work, and with the support of a balanced legislature, Washington will become one of five states, plus the District of Columbia, to have statewide paid family  and medical leave program. Washington’s program is the best model in the nation for both business and workers.

What does that mean for you?
The legislation establishes a paid family and medical leave program that will be funded through paycheck contributions made by both employers and employees. Premiums will begin in 2019 and starting in 2020, 12 weeks of paid family leave or 12 weeks of paid medical leave, financed by the pool, will be available to employees who have worked at least 820 hours at one business. Paid leave will cap out at 16 weeks per calendar year, although an additional two weeks will be available in the event of complications to a pregnancy. Employees will be able to carry benefits from job to job.

Businesses with fewer than 50 employees are exempt, but they can opt in if they so choose. Additionally, small and medium-sized businesses can receive financial assistance when hiring temporary employees to cover duties or when training and overtime costs are incurred due to an employee taking paid family leave. Unlike Washington, the programs in California, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington DC do not take small- and medium-sized businesses into consideration.

Large businesses that already have superior leave programs can opt out of the state program. Companies that already offer paid leave and disability programs but decide to participate in the state program may see a cost reduction from the statewide insurance pool.

Finally, this law ensures that local governments cannot enact their own programs, putting a stop to local paid leave requirements which create a confusing patchwork of laws that unfairly burden employers and employees.

Look for more information on the 2017 Legislative Session and the paid leave bill in the next issue of this magazine. It will be our Legislative Review issue and will arrive in mailboxes this September.

Originally published in the August 2017 edition of Washington Hospitality Magazine

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