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What Are WA Workers' Paid Leave Options During Coronavirus?

Washington workers can use paid sick leave from their employers and apply for the state's new Paid Family and Medical Leave program if they feel ill. (LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/Adobe Stock)
Washington workers can use paid sick leave from their employers and apply for the state's new Paid Family and Medical Leave program if they feel ill. (LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/Adobe Stock)
March 16, 2020

SEATTLE -- Washington state's sick leave policies are in the spotlight as the novel coronavirus wreaks havoc on workers and businesses.

Marilyn Watkins, policy director for the Economic Opportunity Institute, says Washington has enacted some of the most far-reaching and progressive paid leave laws in the country.

To start, workers can tap into paid sick leave through their employers and receive full pay.

"Paid sick leave is available to be used if you yourself are sick, if one of your family members is sick," Watkins points out. "It's also available to use in public health emergencies when your child's school is closed or your child's daycare is closed."

Watkins notes many paid sick leave programs are short-term, lasting one or two weeks. For more extensive coverage, the state has a Paid Family and Medical Leave program that went up at the beginning of the year.

People may be eligible for this program if they or a family member are ill. It provides up to 12 weeks of leave with partial pay -- up to 90% for low-income workers. However, the program faces a backlog and it could take a while for people to get approval.

Watkins says the Employment Security Department is speeding up the process, vowing to bring it down from 10 weeks to two by June, and people can collect benefits retroactively. She also notes the agency has options for people in dire situations.

"People who are really facing catastrophic consequences from the lack of income, there is a[n] expedited process and there's a link to that on the department's website," she stresses.

Watkins says folks could qualify for unemployment insurance if their employer has suspended operations or cut their hours.

Although Washington state has been the epicenter of this crisis, Watkins says it's better prepared than many other states.

"We're really in uncharted territory here," she states. "I think this crisis is really highlighting areas where we need to go a lot further and do a lot more so we're better prepared in the next emergency."

Disclosure: Economic Opportunity Institute contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Early Childhood Education, Livable Wages/Working Families, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA