Washington State has multiple laws regarding maternity leave. Two are state specific, one is a federal regulation that applies across the country, and one is a hybrid – it applies in only twenty two states.
Two regulations overlap, and create considerable confusion along with opportunity.
There is much to digest. This page is intended to provide a brief outline of each Washington State law regarding maternity leave.
- Paid leave options
- Short term disability and unemployment compensation
- Washington State Family Leave Act
- Versus Federal FMLA
WA State Paid Leave Options
Washington State does not provide directly for paid family leave insurance. The state legislature passed the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program in 2007, but has delayed funding the program until at least October 1 of 2015. In the interim there are several ways to indirectly receive paid leave benefits through state maternity leave regulations, and use of private coverage.
Short-term disability in Washington may be the best paid maternity leave option. Both of the indirect paid leave options may work when mom is taking care of her infant. But what about the time she misses work for her own disability? Both complications of pregnancy and recovery from normal childbirth are covered through employee benefit programs.
Family Care Rules
The Washington State Family Care Act allows workers to use accumulated sick days and other paid time off benefits while caring for sick child with a routine illness. If your child is born prematurely, or requires specialized care for a medical condition, it is possible that you could use these paid time benefits to make your family leave more affordable.
In Washington State collecting unemployment during maternity leave is now a possibility in defined situations. The state has taken advantage of unemployment modernization incentives from the federal government that allows workers to collect unemployment benefits for a good cause. The illness or disability of a family member is considered a good cause. This may arise if mom experiences a problem pregnancy or if a child is born seriously ill or delivers preterm.
Washington State Family Leave Act
The Washington State Family Leave Act (FLA) is a state based maternity leave law. The FLA provides 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave. Covered employers have 50 or more employees.
The parental leave regulation is almost identical to its federal counterpart, but with one key difference: an employee’s own disability is not covered.
Men do not gain extra rights under this regulation as males are not disabled during maternity leave. But of course women are disabled during maternity leave in two ways: during a pregnancy disability, and when recovering from childbirth. Consider how this regulation applies in each situation.
Pregnancy Disability Leave
The pregnancy disability leave rule applies only to women and provides an additional 12 weeks of unpaid leave. This part of the regulation has different eligibility criteria for covered employers, so several outcomes may result when the rules are mixed in together. Covered employers have 8 or more employees. Non-profit and religious organizations are exempt from the requirement.
Washington State FLA and pregnancy disability leave do not run concurrently with each other, but each component may run concurrently with the federal FMLA. This creates several outcome defined by length of leave. These examples assume a woman is eligible for all three regulations.
- 18 weeks – for normal childbirth: 6 weeks for recovery, 12 weeks for baby bonding time
- 24 weeks – for women experiencing complications of pregnancy with leave starting prior to delivery: 6 weeks for pregnancy disability, 6 weeks for recovery, and 12 weeks for baby bonding time
Versus Federal FMLA
Both the Washington State and Federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) have nearly identical qualifying criteria: number of hours worked, notice requirements, and employer size criteria. Both regulations provide for 12 weeks of unpaid job protected leave. So what are the differences? There are three things that differ between the state and federal regulations:
- Certified domestic partners are covered by the Washington State act, but not the federal
- Pregnant women working for qualifying employers may have extended leave time
- Workers covered under the WA law only may lose the employer subsidy of health insurance premiums. Only the federal regulation requires employers to continue health benefits on the same basis as a working employee.
- An employee’s own disability is not covered under FLA as noted above.