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 to extend unpaid job protections for up to twenty-four weeks.

Find a summary of how it all works.

  • Paid leave benefit opportunities
  • Family and pregnancy leave acts

Washington State Maternity Leave Benefits

Washington State maternity leave benefits consist of an unfunded maternity leave pay regulation, private disability programs, a new definition for collecting unemployment, and rules regarding use of sick time.

Maternity Leave Pay

Washington State does not provide any direct government assistance or maternity leave pay programs for state or private workers.

The state legislature passed the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program in 2007. However, funding is delayed until at least October 1 of 2015. In the interim, there are several ways to receive paid leave benefits.

Short-Term Disability

Short-term disability in Washington may be the best maternity leave pay option. This private policy purchased at work covers complications of pregnancy and recovery from normal childbirth.

Coverage must begin prior to conception.

Unemployment Compensation

Collecting unemployment during maternity leave is now a possibility in defined situations In Washington State. 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. Fathers may collect unemployment to care for his wife during pregnancy complications. Moms may collect if her child is born with a serious medical condition.

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.

Washington State Parental Leave Act

Washington State has three distinct regulations, which may fall under the parental leave umbrella. Each provides a unique set of entitlements for specific populations, with significant overlap. Follow the links found at the bottom of the page for more information.

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.

This rule is almost identical to its federal counterpart, but with four key differences.

  1. An employee’s own disability is not covered.
  2. Additional leave is available for military family members.
  3. Registered domestic partners are covered.
  4. Same sex spouses are covered.

By not covering an employee’s own disability, the ruling allows parents to extend the length of unpaid leave by combining pregnancy disability leave with baby bonding leave.

Pregnancy Disability Leave

The pregnancy disability leave applies only to women and provides an additional 12 weeks of unpaid leave. 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

Small Businesses

Small businesses may need to comply with these three maternity leave regulations depending upon the number of employees. Non-profit and religious organizations are exempt from the requirements.

  • Less than eight employees – Small businesses with less than 8 employees are exempt.
  • More than eight employees – Small businesses with more than 8 employees must comply with pregnancy disability rules.
  • More than fifty employees – Small businesses with more than 50 employees working within a 75-mile radius must comply with the Washington State FLA, and federal FMLA.


Teachers are predominately female, and have greater maternity leave needs than their male counterparts. Teachers should purchase short-term disability through their school system to enjoy paid leave benefits.

Public school teachers work for larger employers subject to the three primary regulations. Private school teachers may work for exempt employers if the employee size is too small, a non-profit, or religious organizations (Catholic Schools).

Federal FMLA

Both the Washington State and the 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? Three things differ between the state and federal regulations:

  1. Certified domestic partners and same sex spouses are covered by the Washington State act, but not the federal
  2. 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.
  3. FMLA does cover an employee’s own disability.