Washington State Maternity and Parental Leave Laws

Washington State's PFML version of the Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers to provide paid time off.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney · Seattle University School of Law

If you work in Washington State and you need time off work for pregnancy, childbirth, or parenting, you could be eligible for up to 18 weeks per year of paid maternity or paternity (parental) leave under Washington's Paid Family Medical Leave Act (PFML).

Washington's PFML Act, while similar in structure to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, provides extra protection for employees who work in Washington. Most significantly, Washington State PFML provides for paid leave, while the federal law only guarantees unpaid leave. Additionally, Washington doesn't restrict the size of the employers who must provide leave under the law and has a broader definition of "family" that includes siblings and grandparents.

How Does Washington's Maternity and Family Leave Law Work?

Washington is one of about a dozen states that provide publicly funded paid family and medical leave. The state program is paid for with payroll taxes on both employers and employees. If you take paid medical or parenting leave in Washington, you'll receive a percentage of your average income for the duration of your time off (up to a certain point).

In order to qualify for paid PFML leave in Washington state, you'll have to meet certain employment eligibility requirements and experience a "qualifying event."

Which Employees Qualify for PFML?

You'll need to have worked a minimum of 820 hours—about 16 hours per week—in the state of Washington during your qualifying period. Washington counts the first four of the past five completed calendar quarters to see if you've met the minimum hours worked requirement. For most applicants, this is the same as the past year they worked before applying for benefits.

Almost every employer with at least one employee in Washington State is required to provide their employees with PFML coverage. However, there are a few exceptions—these workers don't always get benefits under Washington's paid leave law:

  • federal government employees
  • employees covered under an approved voluntary plan (you can find the list here),
  • people who perform "casual" (irregular and infrequent) work for an employer
  • union members covered by certain collective bargaining agreements
  • businesses owned by tribal governments on tribal land (they have the option to participate in PFML), and
  • self-employed individuals (they have the option to participate in PFML).

    What Is a Qualifying Event for PFML?

    Not every family or medical emergency will be covered by Washington PFML leave. In order to take paid time off, you need to show that either you or your family member experienced a qualifying event.

    Washington's PFML Act offers two types of paid leave benefits: medical and family leave. Your qualifying event might entitle you to coverage under either type, although both programs are administered by the Washington State Employment Security Department.

    Medical leave is for when a serious health condition prevents you from working. The condition can be almost anything, so long as your doctor agrees that it's serious. Examples include:

    • any illness or injury that kept you off work for more than three days
    • chronic health conditions, like diabetes or epilepsy
    • pregnancy or prenatal care
    • treatment for substance abuse or mental health, and
    • recovery from surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or dialysis.

    Pregnancy is considered a serious health condition under Washington law, so if you're taking paid PFML for issues related to pregnancy or childbirth, the state will consider that to be medical leave.

    Family leave is available to take care of a family member with a serious health condition, or to bond with a new baby or child. You can use family leave to care for:

    • your spouse or domestic partner
    • children (biological, adoptive, foster, or stepchildren)
    • your and your spouse's parents or legal guardians
    • siblings
    • grandchildren and grandparents (or spouse's grandparents)
    • son- and daughter- in law, or
    • somebody who has an expectation to rely on you for care, whether you live together or not.

    How Much Will I Be Paid for Maternity or Parenting Leave in Washington?

    Washington calculates your PFML benefits based on a percentage of your wages reported by your employer. You can receive up to 90% of your weekly pay, up to the maximum benefit amount, which in 2024 is $1,456 per week. (The maximum benefit amount is updated yearly.)

    You can estimate your weekly paid PFML amount using Washington's benefit calculator.

    To receive your pay, you'll have to file a weekly claim for benefits. The claim questions simply ask you how many hours you worked, if any, and whether you received any paid time off (PTO) from your employer. You'll also be asked whether you received unemployment insurance or workers' compensation, because you can't take paid PFML leave at the same time as unemployment or workers' comp.

    How Long Is Maternity and Paternity Leave in Washington?

    You might be eligible to receive up to 18 weeks total per year of paid family and medical leave. The total amount you can take per program breaks down as follows:

    • up to 12 weeks of paid family or medical leave
    • up to 16 weeks of leave when family and medical leave are both taken, or
    • up to 18 weeks of leave when family and medical leave are both taken and there are additional complications from pregnancy.

    Here are two examples to help illustrate the differences between the types of leave:

    When you've finished taking leave, you're entitled to return to your job at the same or equivalent position if the following conditions apply:

    • Your employer has at least 50 employees.
    • You worked for that employer for at least one year, and
    • You worked at least 24 hours per week in the year before you took PFML leave.

    Do I Have to Take All My Paid PFML Benefits At Once?

    No, you can take intermittent or reduced schedule leave. But you have to take at least eight hours in a row of leave each week—for example, you might take one day off per week to take care of a family member undergoing chemotherapy. And you still need to file your weekly claim for PFML benefits, even if the number of hours you worked that week is zero.

    Does Washington Have Temporary Disability for Pregnancy?

    Washington doesn't have a separate temporary disability program for pregnancy. If you're pregnant, you can take up to 12 weeks paid medical leave for your pre- and post-natal care (with an additional two weeks if you have pregnancy complications).

    What About Pregnancy Accommodation and Antidiscrimination Laws?

    Washington's workplace pregnancy accommodation law provides protections for employees who have health conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth. The law applies to workplaces with 15 or more employees.

    Under the pregnancy accommodation law, your employer must, upon request:

    • allow you to take additional restroom breaks
    • modify food or drink policies
    • let you sit more frequently
    • not make you lift anything heavier than 17 pounds, and
    • provide a convenient location to express breast milk.

    The reasonable accommodations outlined above don't require you to provide a doctor's note, but for any additional accommodations, such as changing your schedule or temporarily transferring you to a different location, your employer can ask for a supporting doctor's note.

    A federal law called the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers to treat employees who are unable to work due to pregnancy just as it treats other employees who are temporarily disabled for other reasons. For example, if your company lets employees take time off for conditions like broken bones or heart attacks, then it must allow pregnant employees to take the same time off when they are unable to work.

    The federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) takes this one step further, requiring covered employers (those with 15 employees or more) to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who need them due to pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions. Under this law, reasonable accommodations can include time off work.

    How Do I Take Maternity or Paternity Leave in Washington?

    Your first step is to let your employer know that you plan on taking family or medical leave. If you know that you'll be taking leave before it happens—such as for adoption or childbirth—you should let your employer or HR representative know, in writing, at least 30 days before you expect to take leave.

    If you need to take leave unexpectedly, you (or a friend or relative) still need to provide written notice to your employer as soon as possible. The notice doesn't need to be complicated. You can just state that you intend on taking PFML leave and about how long you expect to be out. A sample notice is available here.

    Your next step is to fill out an application for PFML with the state. All applications for PFML require basic documentation, so you'll be asked to supply a form of identification such as a driver's license. You will also need to provide a Certification of Serious Medical Condition form, signed by your doctor, and—depending on the type of leave you're taking—additional documents such as a birth certificate.

    After you apply, you can check the status of your application online. If you're approved for paid leave through the PFML Act, you'll receive a determination letter in the mail letting you know how much your weekly benefit will be and for how long your leave was approved.

    Updated December 29, 2023

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