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Voluntary plans are employer-run paid family and/or medical leave insurance programs. Employers can choose to use a voluntary plan for family leave, medical leave or both. Beginning January 2020, all Washington employers must offer paid family and medical leave whether it's through a voluntary plan or the state plan. Employers must apply and be approved to operate a voluntary plan. For more information, visit our voluntary plan page.
The benefits available to employees covered by a voluntary plan must meet or exceed the state plan's benefits. Benefits must also be extended to all employees of the applying business.
You must apply and be approved to operate a voluntary plan.
For the first three years of a voluntary plan’s existence, reapproval is required every year. After three years, reapproval is required only if you make changes to the plan. All voluntary plan applications will be subject to a $250 fee, except for mandated renewals.
If a voluntary plan is denied, employees are covered under the state plan.
Best practices for voluntary plan submission
- Read the Voluntary Plan Guide to prepare.
- Identify the gaps in existing policy from the Paid Family and Medical Leave program requirements.
- Stipulate the leave entitlement specific to Paid Family and Medical Leave.
- Provide sufficient details for determination review.
- Ensure definitions match those required under the law (for example: definition of family).
We do not begin reviewing a voluntary plan application until we receive your payment. We recommend you allow 30 days from the date we receive your payment to the date we issue an application decision.back to top
Applying for a Voluntary Plan
The voluntary plan application process is three steps:
Submit the application
Upload your policy
Pay the application fee
All … more
Voluntary plans are employer-run paid family and/or medical leave insurance programs. Employers can choose to use a voluntary plan for family leave, medical … more
Your Application Has Been Submitted
Thank you for submitting your voluntary plan application.
Check your email. We've sent you instructions and a payment … more
Nearly all employers in Washington state have responsibilities under the Paid Family and Medical Leave program, including small businesses, state and local government agencies and non-profits, faith organizations and other typically tax-exempt associations. Employers with fewer than 50 employees are not required to pay the employer portion of premiums, but must remit employee premiums and report employee wages, hours and more to ESD. Federal employees, federally recognized tribes and self-employed people are exempt from this program, but federally recognized tribes and self-employed workers may opt-in.
Voluntary plans may be an option for an employer who wants to operate their own paid family or medical leave programs. Employers must apply and be approved to operate a voluntary plan. More information is available on our voluntary plan page.back to top
If you know you will be applying for Paid Family and Medical Leave early in 2020, there is one thing you can do now to get ready: tell your employer.
Telling your employer. If you know about your leave before it happens, you’ll need to give your employer written notice. Provide notice at least 30 days in advance. Emails, text messages, and handwritten notes all count as notice. You’ll need to include the date you gave notice to your employer on the application for paid leave that you submit to the state, so keep a record of the notice.
When you apply for benefits, the state will send a notice to your employer that lists the type of leave you’re applying for (medical or family), the dates you expect to be on leave and the date you gave your employer notice of your plan to take leave.
What kind of paperwork will I need to provide?
To qualify for leave, you will need to provide the state with paperwork that proves you experienced an event that qualifies you to take paid leave.
- For medical leave for yourself, or family leave member, you will need the patient’s healthcare provider to complete our Certification of Serious Health Condition form. You will upload this form during the application process.
- For family leave related to military deployment, you’ll need to provide documentation like active duty orders.
- If you’re taking leave to care for a new child, you may be asked to provide documents such as the child’s birth certificate or court documents to show placement.
How are my hours and wages calculated?
Nearly all employers in Washington began reporting their employees’ names, wages and hours worked in Washington in 2019. Employers submit these reports every three months (in January, April, July and October) to the state on your behalf.
When you apply for benefits, the state reviews the hours your employer(s) reported for you to make sure you worked more than 820 hours during the last year. If you have more than one job, your hours are added together. During the application process, you'll be able to see what your employer reported for you and let us know if you think they made a mistake.back to top
Paid Family and Medical Leave is available to almost everyone working in Washington. You are eligible if:
1. You’ve worked 820 hours (about 16 hours a week) in Washington during the qualifying period, which is about the last year.
2. You’ve experienced a qualifying event. Qualifying events include a serious health condition that prevents you from working, a new baby or child joining your family, and a family member’s serious illness or medical event. Here are some examples:
- You give birth to a baby, adopt a child or have a foster child placed with your family.
- You are recovering from a major surgery, serious illness or injury.
- You are receiving treatment for a chronic health condition like diabetes or epilepsy.
- You are receiving inpatient treatment for substance abuse or for mental health.
- You are taking care of a family member with a serious health condition.
- Your family member is on active duty military service and you take time to be with them during R&R.
3. You are not a federal employee, employed by an employer who has an approved exemption because paid family and medical leave benefits are provided through a voluntary plan, or covered by a collective bargaining agreement that hasn’t been opened or renegotiated since before October 19, 2017. If you’re self-employed or employed by a federally recognized tribe, you are not automatically eligible. Self-employed people and tribes need to opt in to receive paid leave.
How much time can I take?
Most eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of paid leave a year. If you give birth to a baby, you qualify for up to 16 weeks of paid leave. In some circumstances, you may qualify for up to 18 weeks.
You don’t have to take your leave all at once. For example, you may take one day off a week to support a family member undergoing chemotherapy treatment.
What benefit do I receive?
While you’re out, you will receive payments from the state based on a percentage of your typical weekly earnings, up to $1,000 a week. Check back soon for a benefit calculator to estimate how much you will receive.back to top
Any self-employed person may opt-in to the state plan. This includes sole proprietors, independent contractors, partners and joint ventures. When electing to use the state plan, self-employed persons must participate for an initial period of three years, and one year thereafter.
Self-employed people who choose to participate must cover the employee share of the premium and are required to work 820 hours in the qualifying period to be eligible for benefits.
For more information regarding self-employed persons using the state plan, see the RCW here: Elective Coverage – Self Employed.back to top
Grants are available for small businesses to help cover the costs of hiring temporary employees when a member of your team uses Paid Family and Medical Leave. To be eligible for these grants, your business must average 150 or fewer employees. Businesses that average fewer than 50 employees must opt-in to the program and pay the employer portion of premiums to be eligible. The opt-in process will be available in 2020, so employers and employer agents should not submit the employer portion at this time.
Grants of up to $3,000 are available and can be issued 10 times per year to a single employer. A business must apply for these grants. More information about the application process will be available in 2020.
A grant of $1,000 is available to businesses who experience significant wage-related costs due to an employee’s leave when using Paid Family and Medical Leave.
You can learn more about Small Business Assistance in the RCW here.back to top