And just as I was getting done saying that the United States won’t have a paid holiday leave bill any time soon, I need to move on to the latest developments in Washington state labor law—the passage of a bill that creates a minimum for employers in the amount of time they give employees of paid family leave off. We have talked about this bill before—oh, what would you say, my loyal readers, about two weeks ago when it first made its way through the Washington state legislature?
Anyway, just a couple days ago, the governor of the state, Gov. Christine Gregoire, signed the bill into law. What it will do is mandate that employers have to offer their workers as much as five weeks of paid time off, for such events as the birth of a child, or the adoption of a child. Starting October 1, 2009, these new parents would get from their employers up to $250 per week for those five weeks.
Where will this money come from? Not all of it will come from the employers, but where the rest of it will come from is still undecided. That will need to get figured out by a task force set up by the department of labor in the state to come up with feasible solutions. That is one of the reasons why these payments do not kick into effect until near the end of 2009—more than two years from now.
It could also explain why this Washington law is considered by some experts to be not as in-depth as a similar law passed in California back in 2002. That law gives employees the rights to get six weeks of paid leave off, whether it be for taking care of a sick child, spouse, older parent, or a registered so called domestic partner, or to spend time with a newborn child or a newly adopted child. The Cali law also allows for as much as $882 per week to be given to these employees. The way that the Golden State pays for these weekly benefits is through the state taking out a deduction from all employee payrolls—of as much as 0.08 percent of the payrolls.
One thing of note with the California law is that not as many employees have been taking advantage of it as people first thought. That is an interesting question, and one I have no answers for. (You will be the first to know if I eventually do track down why the California system is not running as busy as first thought.) But what the California situation could provide is perhaps a forecast of things to come in Washington state. We will have to wait and see.
One of the confusing things about these paid family leave laws could be that some employers and employees might get them confused with the Family and Medical Leave Act, which is the federal law passed in 1993 that allows employees to take as many as 12 weeks of unpaid time off for medical and family issues—such as pregnancies, births, adoptions, sick children and spouses, or serious illness with the employee themselves. This is the law that employers have to have included in their collection of labor law posters—the FMLA poster, or Family and Medical Leave Poster.
The important distinction with the Family and Medical Leave Act, however, and these state labor laws is that the Family and Medical Leave Act only gives employees the right to unpaid time off—whereas the Washington and California state laws give paid time off.
The Washington state law, when it is signed in effect into law in the next few days probably, will provide workers in the state with paid five weeks off for child care. However, this is not a precedent at all on the state level. As we saw the last few days when I talked about mandatory family leave and other forms of paid or unpaid time off—what do you mean, you don’t remember me talking about these things? Didn’t you read my blog over the weekend? You don’t work over the weekend? For shame on you!
Kidding aside, instead of forcing you to go back and scour my blog posts from last week, I will give you a quick review of what we talked about—past precedents in the paid leave minimum time off movement. The big law came about in California, back in 2002, which is technically the first such law in the whole country.
It required that employers in the state give their employees at least six weeks of paid time off whenever they needed it for family and or medical reasons, such as if they themselves got sick or had a new baby, or if they needed to care for a sick child or a sick elderly parent. The time off could also be used to care for a registered domestic partner, or more traditionally, for their spouse if they were sick. As with the Washington law, this paid time off could be used right after an adoption, too, to bond with the new child in the family.
The California law pays out more per week, too, than the proposed Washington law. Whereas the Washington law only offers out a minimum of $250 per week, the existing California law entitles workers on this paid leave as much as $882 per week, with benefits. And California requires the Family Rights Act Notice posters as well.
Remember that bill we talked about in Washington state that would require employers to give their employees as much as five weeks of paid leave off for a birth of a child, or to adopt a child, or to care for a sick family member? Well, from the sound of my sources out in Olympia, Washington, the governor is about to sign that bill into law.
Gov. Christine Gregoire, who has voiced support for the bill in the past, has said that giving more paid time off for family and medical reasons would be something she could support. The new rule would not kick into effect until Oct. 1, 2009, so that would at least give employers time to change their human resource policies, time off forms, time off calendar, and the like in order to incorporate the new law into their organization. I do not know if the new law will require a new family and medical leave labor law poster on the state level, but I will keep my antennae up and my radar on and let you know as soon as I hear something.
The rule would entitle these employees taking off to take care of a new born child at least as much as $250 per week for those five weeks. The catch, if you remember from our discussion of the bill a few weeks back, is that the state is not sure how to fund the new program yet. Originally, they had aimed to charge employees a tax on every hour of work that they put in—something like 2 cents per hour. But that got removed from the bill, and a new task force was set up with the task of figuring out a way to raise the money to pay for this new time off requirement.
The bill in its current version passed the Washington house by the vote of 57 to 41 on Friday night. The Senate has yet to pass the bill, but they have said they will pass the bill as the House passed it, meaning that it will then go right to the governor’s desk for signing it into law. The bill in the Senate is called Senate Bill 5659. In order to pass it in time—before the legislature ends its session for the year—the Senate will need to sign it before the end of this Sunday—tomorrow for those of you particular about your days—because the legislative session ends on that day.
The Washington state governor, Gov. Chris Gregoire, has said she would sign the bill. But she has also said before that she would want the state residents to also vote on the bill. But she had said that when one of the earlier versions of the law was in the works—one of the laws that would have taxed workers on their pay to the tune of 2 cents per hour. Now that that proposal is tabled, and a task force is going to consider how to pay for the law—expectations are that the governor will sign the bill into law as is.
This is on top of opposition from the state’s Republican leadership and from business groups in the state, who said that the bill would hurt small employers the most. The new law as is would give new parents as much as $250 per week for each of the five weeks that they would be out of work for a family leave.
One of the ways that this will be financed will be through the Department of Labor in the state being able to loan up to $18 million from one of its pension funds in order to get the program up and running.
We were talking earlier in the week, folks, about special laws being considered around the country that would create a sort of minimum paid time off requirement for employers. One of those laws was being considered in the state of Washington, and last we left off, they were still debated the bill. But as of this past Friday night—last night for those of you who are being particular—the state legislature has come up with a compromise bill that could soon become the law of the land in the state of Washington.
The new law, which is a bit lighter in the britches, so to speak, than what had been originally introduced as the bill, would give parents five weeks of paid leave from their jobs. What had originally been on the table that and then some—including paid sick leave available to workers to be able to care for sick family members, or in the event that they themselves get sick. The bill would have made it possible and affordable for employers by charging all employees a “tax” on their wages of 2 cents per hour.
Instead, in the compromise version of the minimum paid leave bill in Washington, the tax on employee wages is gone. In fact, according to what my sources in Washington can tell, there is no mention of how this new program will be paid for in the new version of the bill. Instead, the proposed law would set up a task force in the state for determining the best way for the state to pay for these new added weeks of paid time off. The task force would need to come up with ideas by this coming January. Then the legislature would need to vote on the funding proposals. The actual time off requirements—so called family leave minimum requirements—do not go into effect until the year 2009.