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Washington Amends Its Paid Family and Medical Leave Act in Response to Pandemic

The Washington State Legislature has temporarily amended the state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) Act to create pandemic leave assistance grants for certain employees and employers. Employees and employers cannot apply for these grants until August 1, 2021. This amendment expires on June 30, 2023.

Employee Grants for Pandemic Leave Assistance

Currently, an employee is generally eligible for PFML if they have a serious health condition and worked 820 hours in the qualifying period. This period is the (1) first four of the last five completed calendar quarters or, (2) last four completed calendar quarters immediately preceding the application for leave. However, many employees saw their hours cut in 2020, or lost their jobs entirely, due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic effects and now cannot show enough hours worked to qualify for PFML.

The temporary amendment does not change the law’s “hours worked” requirement or the qualifying period. Instead, it creates a new pandemic leave assistance grant and looks at an employee’s hours worked in 2019 and early 2020 — that is, before the COVID-19 pandemic’s full effects were felt on the state economy. Accordingly, if an employee seeks PFML with an effective start date for any point in 2021 through March 31, 2022, but does not meet the law’s “hours worked” requirement, the employee is eligible for a pandemic leave assistance grant if they either:

  1. Worked 820 hours in 2019; or

  2. Worked 820 hours during the second through fourth calendar quarters of 2019 and the first calendar quarter of 2020.

An employee is ineligible if they have insufficient hours worked because of employment separation due to misconduct or a voluntary separation unrelated to COVID-19.

The amount of the grant equals the normal PFML benefit, and employees must follow the same rules for receiving PFML. Employees cannot receive a grant for any week in which they have received, are receiving, or will receive unemployment compensation, workers’ compensation, or any other applicable federal unemployment compensation, industrial insurance, or disability insurance.

Employer Grants for Pandemic Leave Assistance

The statute currently provides grants to two categories of employers: (1) employers with 150 or fewer employees; and (2) employers with 50 or fewer employees who choose to pay the employer-side PFML premiums. If an employer hires a temporary worker to replace an employee on PFML for seven days or more, the employer may receive a grant of $3,000. If an employee’s PFML creates significant additional wage-related costs, an employer may receive a grant of up to $1,000 as reimbursement. There are additional rules under this grant program.

Under the temporary amendment, these existing grants for employers with employees on PFML are available to employers with employees receiving pandemic leave assistance grants. Unfortunately, employers who run their own voluntary plans are not eligible to receive these grants.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2022National Law Review, Volume XI, Number 112

About this Author

Michael Griffin, Jackson Lewis, Leave Health Management coordinator, Labor Disability lawyer,
Principal and Office Litigation Manager

Michael A. Griffin is a Principal and Office Litigation Manager in the Seattle, Washington, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is also the Disability, Leave and Health Management coordinator for the Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, offices, and he is the Litigation Manager for the Seattle, Washingon, office.

Mr. Griffin has a broad area of practice and responsibility with the firm. He acts as lead counsel on all aspects of employment litigation, including defending discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and...

Sherry Talton Employment Attorney Seattle
Of Counsel

Sherry L. Talton is Of Counsel in the Seattle, Washington, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. She advises and represents employers in every stage of disputes, from risk management to trial and appeal.

Ms. Talton has a broad base of litigation, trial, and appellate experience in numerous state and federal courts across the nation. She has assisted employers to protect their trade secrets, combat wrongful competition, comply with wage and hour laws, enforce arbitration agreements and other employment contract provisions, and implement best recruiting, hiring, and...

Jonathan Minear, Employers Attorney, Wage and Hour Compliance Lawyer, Jackson Lewis Law Firm, Seattle

Jonathan M. Minear is an Associate in the Seattle, Washington, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He focuses his practice on litigating workplace law matters and assisting employers with preventive advice and counsel.

Mr. Minear represents employers in state and federal courts in a broad range of matters, including harassment, discrimination, retaliation, employment torts, breach of contract, wage and hour compliance, and wrongful termination claims. He also appears before administrative agencies, such as the Equal Employment...