Most employees in Washington state are hired on an at-will basis, which means that they do not have an employment contract. Employment contracts are desirable because they enable you to exercise and perhaps negotiate benefits beyond the minimum that the law requires. Even if you do not have an employment contract guaranteeing your job and your benefits until a certain date, you still have the right to certain legal protections if you have worked full-time for your employer for at least a year. For example, all full-time employees have the right to take a leave of absence from work because of their own medical conditions or to take care of a family member in the event of the family member’s illness, birth, or military exigencies. Federal law requires employers to grant an unpaid leave of absence to employees for medical or family caregiving reasons, but state law in Washington requires employers to pay employees a portion of their weekly wages during the weeks that they are on family leave or medical leave. Even though the law is clear about the rights of workers regarding family and medical leave, employers sometimes try to intimidate employees out of exercising these rights. The Spokane Family Medical Leave Act lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can answer your questions about family and medical leave in Washington.
The Federal Family and Medical Leave Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act is a federal law that gives workers the right to take an unpaid leave of absence from work because of their own health issues or to care for sick or injured family members or newborn, newly adopted, or newly fostered children. Workers become eligible for FMLA leave once they have worked full-time for the employer for a year. The maximum length of time an FMLA leave can last is 12 weeks. FMLA is as close as federal law comes to guaranteeing a leave of absence from work for new parents; the leave is unpaid, and only people who have worked at the same job for more than a year are eligible for it.
Requesting FMLA leave is a legally protected activity. This means that if your employer does not allow you to return to your job at the end of your FMLA leave, you can sue your employer for employer retaliation or wrongful termination of employment. You also have a claim of employer retaliation if, after your FMLA leave, your employer takes another unjustified adverse action against you, such as changing your work schedule or duties against your wishes or subjecting you to excessive scrutiny.
How is Washington State Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) Different From FMLA?
Washington has its own state policy, namely Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML), that enables workers who take FMLA leave to receive a portion of their usual pay while they are on leave. Employees who take PFML use it concurrently with FMLA leave; in other words, it is the same amount of time off from work, but in Washington, you get paid during your FMLA leave, whereas employees in many other states do not.
To be eligible for PFML, you must have been employed with the same employer for at least a year, and you must have worked at least 820 hours for your employer during at least four of the most recent five calendar quarters. The final decision about whether your medical condition requires you to miss work and therefore qualifies for PFML, rests with your physician. A general guideline is that an illness or injury qualifies if it requires hospitalization or inpatient treatment (even briefly) or if it leaves you unable to get out of bed for at least three days. You can use PFML if you receive inpatient treatment for substance use disorder and if you are receiving a course of treatment such as chemotherapy or dialysis.
If you know about your need for treatment and your treatment plan in advance, you should inform your employer as far in advance of the beginning of your leave as possible. For example, if you are having a scheduled surgery with a long recovery time, such as bariatric surgery or a knee replacement, you will know about this several months before the surgery, and you will have plenty of time to work out your plans with your employer. This is not possible in the case of accidental injuries or illnesses with a sudden onset, so your employer should accommodate your PFML request, even if your health condition is an emergency.
The same rules about taking a family leave because of a family member’s health condition or military exigency apply to PFML as to FMLA. For a newborn baby, you can take PFML leave at any time in the baby’s first year of life. For example, the baby’s mother might take PFML leave starting from the baby’s birth, and then she might return to work at the end of 12 weeks, at which point the baby’s father might begin his PFML leave. For newly adopted or newly fostered children, you can take PFML any time within a year of the child joining your family.
The pay you receive during PFML is proportional to your salary or wage. The maximum weekly pay you can get for PFML is $1,327 per week.
Can You Take a PFML Leave Both for Your Pregnancy and to Care for Your Newborn Baby?
Pregnancy complications are a qualifying medical condition for PFML, so can the same woman take PFML before and after her child’s birth? If you take PFML for your pregnancy and also for your new baby, the maximum total length of the leave is 16 weeks. Of course, some high-risk pregnancies require the mother to limit her activities and take a leave of absence from work for more than four weeks before the baby’s birth. If your doctor has advised you to take a leave of absence from work because of a high-risk pregnancy, an employment lawyer can help you protect your health, your baby’s health, and your employment situation.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP, About Family and Medical Leave
The Spokane employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP, can help you exercise your right to paid family leave or medical leave. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Spokane, Washington, to set up a consultation.