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Premium collection to begin for Washington's new paid family and medical leave program

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signs the state's paid family leave law on July 5, 2017, in Olympia, Wash.
Rachel La Corte
AP Photo
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signs the state's paid family leave law on July 5, 2017, in Olympia, Wash.

Workers might see a little more coming out of their paychecks starting Jan. 1, as employers begin collecting premiums for Washington's new paid family and medical leave program.

Lawmakers approved the program in 2017. Starting in 2020, elligible workers will be able to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave for family or medical events, including time off for taking care of new children or sick relatives.

"Research does show that when people are able to take the time they need to take care of themselves or their loved ones who are ill, it helps in making sure that people can recover faster and then, hopefully, return to the workforce faster," said Carla Reyes, director of the state family and medical leave program.

Workers won't be able to take advantage of the benefit until 2020. Reyes says the state needs to start collecting premiums a year early to build up the program. The Employment Security Department is also continuing its rulemaking process.

The program is set up to include both employer and employee contributions. For the most part, employees will contribute about 63 percent of the premium with employers covering about 37 percent. The 2019 premium rate is 0.4 percent of an employee's gross wages.

For example, over the course of 2019, someone making $50,000 is going to pay about $126 into the program while their employer contributes about $73.

There is an exception for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Those organizations do not have to pay the employer share. Requirements can also be waived for companies that already offer comparable benefits. 

Some employers may also decide to cover the whole premium. A company may decide to take that route if it employs people outside of Washington and wants to maintain the status quo among employees. Paying the premium could also aid in attracting workers.

"It makes them not only happy to be able to support their employees, but also it makes them a more competitive employer in the marketplace," Reyes said. 

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.