Washington State has multiple laws regarding maternity leave that provide unpaid job protection rights.
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 and may be the only option for income replacement for those without private coverage.
Two regulations overlap, and create considerable confusion along with the opportunity to extend unpaid job protections for up to twenty-four weeks.
Find a summary of how Washington State maternity leave laws work.
- 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 the use of sick time.
Most residents will find that paid leave is not available.
Maternity Leave Pay
Washington State does not provide any direct government assistance or maternity leave pay programs for state or private workers. The private sector provides a potential solution, but many women become aware of the requirements too late.
The state legislature passed the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program in 2007. However, the government delayed funding until at least October 1 of 2015. In the interim, families must take matters into their own hands.
Maternity Leave Loans
Request a maternity leave loan to gain funding to help pay your bills while bonding with your baby. Washington State does not have any programs providing income replacement for temporary medical conditions, and you must purchase private short-term disability prior to conception in order to qualify.
Short-term disability in Washington State may be the best maternity leave pay option for future pregnancies. Coverage must begin prior to conception – no exceptions. Many women are unaware of this requirement and miss an important opportunity.
A policy purchased at work covers complications of pregnancy and recovery from normal childbirth. One purchased privately outside of your employer covers complications only.
Collecting unemployment during maternity leave is now a possibility in very narrowly 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. For example, fathers may collect unemployment if he voluntarily terminates employment to care for his wife during pregnancy complications. Moms may collect if she quits work after her child is born with a serious medical condition.
Eligibility for unemployment benefits hinges on a parent’s availability to work. A parent must be actively seeking a new job. He or she is ineligible during the time that care of a sick family member prevents them from working.
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 a 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) 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.
- An employee’s own disability is not covered.
- Additional leave is available for military family members.
- Registered domestic partners are covered.
- 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 outcomes defined by the length of the 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 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).
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:
- Certified domestic partners and same-sex spouses are covered by the Washington State act, but not the federal
- 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.
- FMLA does cover an employee’s own disability.
- Family Leave FAQ
- Family Leave Insurance
- Washington FAQ About Family Care Rules
- Unemployment – WA Revised Code 50.20.050
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