OPINION: Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave Program Supports Workers, Businesses

by Lauren Hipp

As we welcome in the New Year, there are many reasons to celebrate. But perhaps one of the biggest is that on January 1, Washington took a huge step toward ensuring that workers across the state will have access to comprehensive paid family and medical leave for the first time. This will make a huge difference in the lives of so many families, and I’m especially excited about the changes it will bring for mine.

My husband and I own the Hill City Tap House & Bottle Shop in Columbia City. It’s impossible to imagine our business succeeding without our amazing employees. When you have a staff that’s small and close-knit, they become part of the family. So I want the best for my family: I want to provide them with everything they need to thrive, including a good, living wage and solid benefits. Truthfully though, it’s hard to do that while building a business from the ground up.

But in 2019, providing for my employees becomes a lot easier. That’s because employees and employers in Washington will begin contributing to a statewide insurance pool that will fund a statewide Paid Family and Medical Leave program, with benefits starting a year later.

This groundbreaking program guarantees up to 16 weeks of combined Paid Family and Medical Leave per year, whether it’s to welcome a new child, care for an ill parent, or recover from a major illness. Birth parents can take up to 18 weeks if they experience pregnancy complications. And for a program that covers the full range of caregiving needs, it’s impressive that the average worker will only contribute just over $2 per week — less than the price of a cup of coffee.

What’s more, Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program has taken the needs of small business owners like me into account. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees can choose to contribute to the insurance pool or not — and either way, their employees will receive benefits through the Employment Security Department. Businesses with fewer than 150 employees that contribute will qualify for assistance grants from the state to help cover costs while an employee is on leave, making our program unique from any other in the country.

Paid family and medical leave is good for employees and employers alike. When businesses offer paid leave, they retain employees for longer and save money they would otherwise have to spend on turnover costs. I know that it will make a huge difference for me, and will help me provide my employees with flexible paid leave without sacrificing the steady growth of my business.

I have two children, ages four and (almost!) two. The first few months of looking after them were hard on my husband and me, especially because we were trying to manage our business at the same time. I’ve also heard firsthand from other south Seattle moms about the challenges they’ve faced without access to paid leave. That’s why I’m so thrilled to see this program finally get underway. I don’t want any of my employees or neighbors to have to sacrifice a paycheck to care for themselves or their loved ones.

This program ensures that everyone in Washington will be able to care for themselves and for our families. I’m proud that Washington has decided to take this step toward a brighter future.

Lauren Hipp is the Early Learning Campaign Director for MomsRising.org and owns Hill City Tap House & Bottle Shop in Columbia City.