Did you know that workers in Washington State can receive paid leave benefits that most other states don’t offer? This is thanks to a state program enacted in 2020 known as Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML).

PFML is a great benefit for Washington workers, especially during the pandemic when so many families have been struggling with financial and personal hardships.

If you’re unable to work due to a serious medical condition, the PFML program can work in tandem with your disability insurance coverage and help to fill the gaps in your income.

And depending on your insurance provider, you may be able to receive paid leave at the same time you receive your private disability insurance payments.

Wondering if this program might be a good option for you? Let’s dig into some of the details about what it provides and how you can qualify.

What is PFML?

PFML in Washington State is a relatively new program that began paying benefits as of January 1, 2020. All employers with one or more employees in WA are required to participate in the state program or adopt a state-approved, employer-funded plan.

Washington is one of only nine states in the U.S. to have enacted Paid Family and Medical Leave, and it’s one of only four states where the program is currently active. Oregon, for example, is a state where this program has been enacted but is not yet active.

How PFML differs from FMLA

This state program offers an additional benefit to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993. So, how are these two programs different?

Unlike the state program, FMLA only offers unpaid leave. In that case, your employer is required to give you your job back after your leave –– but you’re footing the cost for missed work.

On the other hand, if you qualify for PFML, you’ll have both paid leave and a job to go back to when it ends.

Now, this isn’t a totally free benefit for you –– you do pay a small premium through your paycheck, based on your earnings. But your employer helps to pay for the program, too.

What does PFML cover?

There are two types of paid leave available through this program:

  • Medical leave for your own illness, treatment, or preventative care
  • Family leave for a family member’s illness or other qualifying family events

Medical leave applies when you have suffered a serious health condition that prevents you from working.

Family leave may be used to care for a family member with a serious health condition, for bonding with a new baby or child (biological, adopted, foster, or stepchild), or for military family leave.

The Washington PFML program covers up to 12 weeks of paid leave a year, depending on the medical provider.

The Washington PFML program covers up to 12 weeks of paid leave a year, depending on the medical provider. If you have more than one qualifying event, then you can take up to 16 weeks of paid leave.

Eligible employees may receive up to 90 percent of their gross wage, to a weekly maximum benefit amount of $1,206 and a minimum of $100. That amount is based on a statewide weekly average.

A private disability insurance plan will likely provide a higher portion of your typical earnings than PFML. For example, most short-term disability plans cover 80-100% of your weekly gross income, rather than using a statewide average.

Who is eligible for PFML?

In order to qualify for coverage from the Paid Family and Medical Leave program in Washington State, you must meet these basic requirements:

  • You must have worked at least 820 hours over the previous year (roughly 16 hours a week) –– this can include combined hours worked at more than one employer.
  • Your job must meet specific eligibility requirements.

Those who are not automatically eligible for paid leave include:

  • Federal employees
  • People employed by a business located on tribal land
  • Self-employed individuals who do not opt into the program
  • Some union workers (check with your employer or union representative)

What if PFML doesn’t provide enough coverage?

Washington’s PFML program can offer paid leave benefits when you need them most.

But it might not provide enough coverage, especially if you are unable to work for an extended period of time due to a serious medical condition. This is where having private disability insurance coverage can be a critical lifeline.

The unfortunate downside to private disability insurance, however, is your benefits generally don’t come easy. Unlike a state program, there are many more hoops to jump through with a private insurance plan.

This is because disability insurance companies will look for any excuse to deny your claim. Their goal is to protect their bottom line and avoid paying benefits to claimants whenever possible.

If you’re struggling to get your benefits through a short-term or long-term disability policy, reach out to our team of experts in Washington State disability law for a free consultation.

Know your options

When you’re dealing with a serious medical condition, knowing that your income is covered can give you some much-needed peace of mind. We want to be sure you know all of your options to help ease your financial burden during a difficult time.

If you’re interested in applying for PFML benefits in Washington, be sure to visit the program’s website and consult with your employer to learn more.