Did you know that workers in Washington State may be entitled to paid family and medical leave benefits that most other states don’t offer? This is thanks to a state program enacted in 2020 called Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML).

The Paid Family and Medical Leave program is an excellent 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 severe medical condition, the PFML program can work in tandem with your short-term or long-term 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 get your private disability insurance payments.

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

What is WA PFML?

Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave is a relatively new program that began paying benefits on January 1, 2020. All employers with one or more employees in WA must 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 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 up and running.

How does WA PFML differ from FMLA?

This Washington 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, the program requires that your employer give you your job back after your break –– but you’re footing the cost for missed work.

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

Now, PFML 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 WA PFML cover, and for how long?

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

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

Medical leave

You could qualify for medical leave if you have suffered a severe health condition that prevents you from working.

Family leave

Family leave benefits 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.

Amount of coverage

The WA PFML program covers up to 12 weeks of paid leave a year, depending on the medical provider. You may be eligible for up to 16 weeks of combined medical and family leave if you have more than one qualifying event within the same claim year.

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

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

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 a statewide average.

Who is eligible for WA PFML?

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 WA PFML doesn’t provide enough coverage?

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

But it might not provide enough coverage, especially if you cannot work for an extended period. Private disability insurance coverage, whether through an employer or yourself, can be a critical lifeline in the event of a long-term illness or injury.

However, the unfortunate downside to private disability insurance is that 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

Knowing that your income is covered can give you much-needed peace of mind when dealing with a significant life event that impacts your ability to work. We want to be sure you know all your options to help ease your financial burden during a difficult time.

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