Paid Family Leave Begins in Washington

It's a new year, a new decade, and the new Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave program is now in effect! As of January 1, Washington workers are able to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a new child, for the serious health condition of a family member, or for the worker’s own serious health condition. You can get more details about the new program here and here.

Legal Voice worked for more than a decade to achieve this policy victory for Washington families, working alongside lead partners Economic Opportunity Institute and the Washington State Labor Council, plus other members of the Washington Work & Family Coalition, and with legislators and representatives from the business community as well. As a result of this strong collaboration, Washington is only the 5th state in the nation, plus D.C., to pass such a law - and ours is the strongest of its kind!

While this law will benefit all workers and their families, we are very excited about the law's impact on women's physical and economic health. Women are the primary or co-breadwinners for nearly two-thirds of families in the U.S. Even so, women continue to take on the majority of family caregiving responsibilities, meaning they are often the ones who take time off work to stay home with a sick child or care for an aging parent. Plus, people need time to recover after giving birth, but nearly a quarter of working U.S. moms return to work within two short weeks of doing so

Furthermore, paid family and medical leave is a racial justice issue. Lack of access to paid leave exacerbates existing race-based disparities, like higher rates of chronic health conditions among people of color and the huge wealth gap between white families and families of color. For example, a median white family has $140,500 in wealth to draw on in times of need, compared to $6,500 for a median Latino family and $3,500 for a median Black family. Meanwhile, Asian American and Pacific Islander families in the bottom tier of wealth have less than half the wealth of similarly situated white families. Reducing such health and economic disparities is another reason why this new law is so important.

This law is the result of a true community effort and is a powerful testament to the important policy and cultural shifts that we're able to accomplish together. The final bill reflects Washington State's values by including policies that are meaningful for workers, equitable for diverse families, and manageable for businesses. We are so thrilled!