SEATTLE — Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill into law Wednesday that will have widespread impact for Washingtonians starting in 2019.
Starting then, workers and employers will be mandated to pay into a system so that paid family leave will be available for all Washington workers by 2020.
Megan Slade remembers the struggle to get three months of maternity leave when she had her first child.
“It was so anxiety-provoking and so disheartening,” Slade said.
Slade got the time off to bond with her baby after cobbling together a number of things.
“It was my accrued sick time, PTO, then a month I took without pay,” Slade said.
Still, Slade is among a minority of Washington workers who have access to paid family leave.
“Only about 12 to 15% of the workforce get paid family leave benefit,” said Marilyn Watkins, who is with the Economic Opportunity Institute.
That's why for almost two decades Watkins lobbied for mandatory paid family and medical leave. The governor signed the measure into law on Wednesday. Four other states, including California, have similar laws.
“I am really excited. I think this is something that's going to be really good for everybody in Washington state,” Watkins said.
Parents with a newborn or going through an adoption will qualify. Also, anyone caring for a sick family member can also get the time off.
Employers have to give a mandatory 12 weeks paid time off to workers. Some could get up to 18 weeks if there are certain complications.
But Watkins predicts most workers will use paid family leave for themselves.
“We anticipate about two-thirds of the program use will, in fact, be for the workers’ own health condition,” Watkins said.
But opponents of the new law are calling it a win for big government and say the mandate is unfair.
“I think there will be a whole lot of Washington workers who will be very surprised to find out that the state government now will be taking money out of their paycheck to pay for an insurance program that they or their families are not interested in using,” said Patrick Connor, who is with The National Federation of Independent Business.
Most employers are required to pay about a third of the cost. Companies with 50 employees or less are exempt from paying the premium, but their employees can still pay into the system to get benefits.
NFIB says even though some of the smallest businesses wouldn’t have to pay the premium, they are still required to keep a detailed payroll log and to report the information to the state.
The group says they are hearing from businesses concerned about the impact.
“They are concerned about the cost and consequences of complying with this new mandate,” Connor said.
NFIB also says many in the public are not aware the state will have to hire 150 new state employees to implement the program. It will also cost $80 million to get the program up and running.
But supporters say the investment is worth it for society. Essentially all workers, even those who are self-employed or a contractor, can pay into the system and get the same benefits.
The lower the wage, the more you will get back in the end. For example if you make $31,000 a year you can expect $1.51 to be taken out of your paycheck every week. The employer will be required to pay 89 cents into the system. If that employee then takes paid leave, they will get $570 a week, which is 86% of their wages.
On the flip side, if you make $89,000 a year, you pay $4.33 a week and your employer will give $2.55. In this salary bracket, you get $1,000 a week, which is 58% of your wages.
“The reason we did it that way is that everyone can afford to take the leave,” Watkins said.
People like Slade says the mandate is exciting not just for many moms but also dads who traditionally don't take months off.
“It’s blowing up and down the stroller brigade on Facebook,” Slade said.