Potential expansion of WA Paid Medical Leave to include small employers and ‘Chosen Families’ in Washington

The Center Square (aiexpress) – Two bills addressing significant changes to Washington’s Family and Medical Leave Act were presented for hearings in Olympia today.

Smaller businesses with less than 50 employees would be required to offer paid leave under one of the proposed measures. The other measure aims to expand the eligibility criteria for individuals who can access benefits for caring for their loved ones.

Rep Amy Wallen, a Democrat from Kirkland, took the initiative to sponsor HB 1959.

She informed committee members that as a medium-sized employer, the idea of exploring this had crossed her mind.

She emphasized, “If we consider the medical aspect and the family leave aspect of the paid family medical leave act, it becomes evident that businesses with less than 50 employees are exempt from paying the employer portion of family or medical leave.”

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During her testimony, she informed the lawmakers that medium-sized businesses are providing financial support to smaller companies.

The bill was opposed by Tom Kwieciak, representing the Building Industry Association of Washington.

According to him, this is yet another expense that small businesses will have to shoulder. He points out that in the past two years, there has already been an increase in minimum wage and a 10% rise in workers’ compensation. Additionally, many small businesses are still grappling with unemployment problems caused by the COVID pandemic. The list of challenges seems to be never-ending.

According to Kwieciak, the negotiations from years ago, prior to the enactment of the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act in Washington, are being referenced. He argues that going back on the agreement made back then creates a significant setback. This makes it challenging to pass the legislation and engage in honest negotiations for future matters.

He was talking about agreements that would not enforce the measure on smaller businesses.

Bob Battles with the Association of Washington Business expressed his thoughts to lawmakers, stating, “The negotiation process we went through previously was a meticulous and extensive one. It involved months of careful deliberation, late-night discussions, and midnight phone calls to ensure that every detail was thoroughly negotiated.”

According to him, small employers can choose to participate in the program and take advantage of various provisions that have been included. He emphasized that the matching aspect of the program was a crucial element that was carefully negotiated, aligning with the requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

According to Julia Gorton from the Washington Hospitality Association, she expressed similar concerns about the bill.

According to the expert, workers benefit from a more lenient eligibility criteria and extended periods of leave. Moreover, they receive a higher wage replacement. The cost factor also plays a crucial role for businesses. It is not just about the program’s expenses, but smaller employers face challenges in redistributing work among their limited workforce as larger employers can.

HB-1991 is another bill that seeks to significantly enhance sick or family paid leave benefits. It aims to extend the benefit to situations where there is an expectation that the employee will provide care for an individual, regardless of their familial relationship. The bill recognizes the crucial role that employees can play in supporting and caring for others.

Rep. Mary Foss, D-Everett, is the prime sponsor. In a testimony before the House Labor and Workforce Standards Committee, she emphasized the positive impact of this bill on working families, stating that it would provide significant support.

“One of the changes involves revising the definition of family in the statutes,” she explained. “I want to ensure that no Washington families have to face the same hardships I experienced. When I fell ill during my school years, my family ended up homeless due to a sudden loss of income.”

“Our families deserve to reap the benefits, irrespective of whether they conform to the traditional nuclear family structure.”

Daniel Goodman, from the Washington State Association for Justice, appealed for backing of the bill by recounting his personal experience of being ostracized by his family after coming out as gay. According to him, in Seattle, he found solace in a close-knit community of individuals who have faced similar challenges, which they refer to as their “chosen families.”

He mentioned a man named Tye, who he said was an older blind member of his “chosen family.”

“He said that it is our responsibility to take care of Tye, but due to the existing law, we would not have the ability to utilize our sick leave.”

No actions were taken on either measure after today’s hearings.

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