The Washington Family and Medical Leave Act (“WFMLA”) is getting some major changes beginning in 2019. Why does this matter to Washington cannabis businesses? Because all of those businesses, regardless of type or size, will be required to collect and pay premiums under the revised law beginning January 1. These companies will also be required to provide wage replacement for eligible employees beginning in 2020.
Last year, the Washington legislature became just the fifth state to approve paid family and medical leave. Paid family and medical leave is a statewide insurance program that will provide eligible employees with partial wage replacement while on qualifying leave. Paid family and medical leave will be paid from a state fund, funded by premiums collected by employers. Premium collection begins January 1, 2019. The premium is equal to 4% of an employee’s wages, and the burden is shared between the employer and the employee.
Like with FICA and federal income tax, the employer is responsible for collecting the employee’s portion of WFMLA tax through payroll. If you want to be a model cannabis business, the law allows employers to cover the employee portion of the premium. Note that employers with less than 50 employees are not required to pay their portion of premium, but must still collect the employee’s portion and remit it to the state.
Employees become eligible for paid family leave once they have worked 820 hours for a Washington-based employer during the previous year. Employees can take paid leave for their own medical condition, bonding with a child, caring for family members, and certain military-related events. Eligible employees can receive up to 12 weeks of wage replacement with a weekly minimum of $100 and a weekly maximum of $1,000. The amount of wage replacement the employee receives is based on the employee’s earned wages, the state median income, and other factors. Employees can begin applying for benefits on January 1, 2020.
But what about the paid sick leave marijuana employers are required to provide in Washington? The WFMLA does not affect the requirement for employers to provide paid sick leave to employees in Washington. Paid sick leave, unlike paid medical and family leave, does not require the payment of premiums. Further, employees accrue at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked under the Washington sick leave law.
Cannabis businesses should get ready for the new premium assessments beginning January 1, 2019, and budget for those new costs now. If you’re worried about compliance, our cannabis business and employment attorneys here at Harris Bricken can help you formulate a plan to ensure you comply with WFMLA and related laws.
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