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Washington State Temporarily Expands PFML with COVID-19 Grants

Washington state has created a temporary grant program to provide paid family and medical leave (PFML) to individuals who, due to COVID-19, are unable to meet the “hours worked” requirement for the benefit. The grant program is outlined in an April 21, 2021, amendment to the PFML law. Employees may begin filing for the grants on August 1, 2021.

Washington PFML imposes an eligibility requirement of 820 hours worked in either the first four of the last five calendar quarters or the last four completed calendar quarters preceding the application for leave.

The new law allows workers who do not meet the hours-worked requirement but are otherwise eligible for PFML to receive a pandemic leave assistance employee grant for the benefit. To be eligible, the worker’s PFML claim must have a start date in 2021 through March 31, 2022, and the worker must have:

  • Worked 820 hours during the first through fourth quarters of 2019; or
  • Worked 820 hours during the second through fourth quarters of 2019 and first quarter of 2020.

The worker’s failure to meet the regular hours worked requirement cannot result from job loss due to misconduct or a voluntary separation unrelated to the pandemic.

Additionally, employers with 150 or fewer employees (small employers) may be eligible for a pandemic leave assistance employer grant to assist with the costs of an employee on PFML until funding for them is exhausted. The two types of pandemic leave assistance employer grants are:

  • A Wage-Related Costs Grant, which is up to $1,000 for wage-related costs (like paying additional wages to an existing employee, using a temporary agency, or purchasing additional equipment related to the leave); or
  • An Adding a New Employee Grant, which is $3,000 for adding a temporary employee to the payroll to replace an employee on paid leave.

Employers can get either grant but not both. However, employers may get a grant that covers the difference between the Adding a New Employee Grant they received and $3,000 if:

  • The employee on leave who received, or will receive, a pandemic leave assistance grant extended the leave beyond the amount they were initially planning; and
  • The employer hired a temporary worker to temporarily replace them.

Employers may only apply for a grant once and must submit specific documentation to the Employment Security Department (ESD) that demonstrates they hired a worker or lists the costs they incurred. Employers with fewer than 50 employees must pay the employer’s share of the premium for all employees for three years (12 quarters) after receiving a grant. The additional premiums will be assessed quarterly when employers submit their reports. Employers with between 50 and 150 employees already pay the employer share of the premium and do not have additional requirements. Employers with an approved voluntary plan are ineligible.

The law expires on June 30, 2023.

Additional information on the grants and how to apply can be found on the Washington Paid Family & Medical Leave website.

HR Works, headquartered in Upstate New York, is a human resource management outsourcing and consulting firm serving clients throughout the United States for over thirty years. HR Works provides scalable strategic human resource management and consulting services, including: affirmative action programs; benefits administration outsourcing; HRIS self-service technology; full-time, part-time and interim on-site HR managers; HR audits; legally reviewed employee handbooks and supervisor manuals; talent management and recruiting services; and training of managers and HR professionals.