Voluntary plans are employer-run paid family and/or medical leave insurance programs. Employers can choose to use a voluntary plan for family leave, medical leave or both. Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, all Washington employers must offer paid family and medical leave whether it's through a voluntary plan or the state plan. Please note, under the state plan, any employer may choose to cover all or part of their employees' premiums on their behalf. If you want to cover the cost of your employees' premiums, it is not necessary to operate a voluntary plan.
The voluntary plan guide is intended to give you the information you need to successfully apply for a voluntary plan. The guide includes the administrative requirements, the benefit requirements, and more. If you are considering a voluntary plan, please download the voluntary plan guide.
Best practices for voluntary plan submission
1. Read the Voluntary Plan Guide to prepare;
2. Identify the gaps in existing policy from the Paid Family and Medical Leave program requirements;
3. Stipulate the leave entitlement specific to Paid Family and Medical Leave;
4. Provide sufficient details for determination review;
5. Ensure definitions match those required under the law (for example: definition of family).
Voluntary Plan Questions?
Our Customer Care Team is available to answer voluntary plan questions from 8:30am to 4:30pm Monday through Friday.
- Voluntary plans are employer operated paid family and/or medical leave insurance programs
- They must meet or exceed state plan benefits
- They must be approved by the Employment Security Department before they are offered to employees
- They have unique reporting requirements that are different from state plan reporting requirements
- They have unique employee eligibility requirements that are different from state plan eligibility requirements
Voluntary plans are available to employers who wish to operate their own paid family and/or medical leave programs. The employee benefits of a voluntary plan must meet or exceed the state plan's benefits. Benefits must also be extended to all employees of the applying business.
Employers must apply and be approved to operate a voluntary plan. Applications can be submitted online.
For the first three years of a voluntary plan’s existence, reapproval is required every year. After three years, reapproval is required only if the employer makes changes to the plan. All voluntary plan applications will be subject to a $250 fee, except for mandated renewals.
If a voluntary plan is denied, employees are covered under the state plan.
Family Leave and Medical Leave
There are two parts to Paid Family and Medical Leave: family leave and medical leave. An employer can choose a voluntary plan that covers just family leave, just medical leave, or both.
Family leave covers events like the birth of a baby or the adoption or placement of a child younger than 18, the care for a family member, and some military-connected events.
Medical leave covers self-care for the employee after a qualifying event. Medical leave is sometimes called short-term or temporary disability.
If an employer chooses to operate one part and not the other, the employees of that business will use the state plan for the part not chosen. The employer must meet the requirements of the state plan for the option not chosen in addition to operating their voluntary plan.
Employers using a voluntary plan must report employee wages, hours worked, and other information required by the state.
Paid Family and Medical Leave benefits are portable between jobs, and employee qualification is based on hours worked. Therefore, reporting is necessary for voluntary plan employers so that employees have a record of their total hours worked among all employers.
Voluntary plan operators should be prepared to report for each employee:
- Full name
- Social Security Number (ITIN if no SSN)
- Wages paid during that quarter
- Total hours worked during that quarter
- Weekly benefit and leave duration for any employee who takes leave for reasons that would qualify under the state plan
- Total premiums deducted from all employee’s wages during the calendar quarter.
Reporting rules will be written during Phase 2 of the rulemaking process. If you would to participate, you should start on our Rulemaking Page.
Employee Benefit Eligibility
Employees are eligible for benefit payments under an approved voluntary plan once they have worked 820 hours in the qualifying period and 340 hours for that employer. Employees who are not yet eligible for coverage under an approved voluntary plan are eligible for benefits under the state plan if they have worked 820 hours in the qualifying period. If an employee was covered under a Voluntary Plan by their previous employer, they are immediately eligible for their new employer’s Voluntary Plan.
Third Party Administration
Voluntary plan employers have the option to work with a third party to operate their voluntary plan. If an employer chooses to work with a third party the employer still carries the legal burden of satisfying the requirements of the program.
Accelerated Payment Offer
A voluntary plan employer may incentivize an employee to return to work early. These employers can offer an accelerated payment schedule where they pay the monetary benefit the employee is entitled to in a shorter period of time, allowing the employee the choice to return earlier than expected.
For an offer to meet the requirements of the law, an employer must offer at least half the entitled amount of time for leave, then compensate the employee the benefit amount they would’ve received had they taken the entire amount of leave.
For example, an employee could intend to take 10 weeks of Paid Family and Medical Leave. The employer could offer eight weeks of paid leave and the compensation of the final two weeks when they return to work. If the employee accepts this offer, they would be out of work for 8 weeks and receive the compensation of 10 weeks.
The decision to accept this offer from an employer is entirely the employee’s. This accelerated payment option is only available to voluntary plan participants.
What you need before applying
An employer who chooses to apply for a voluntary plan will need to develop a program that meets or exceeds the state plan in specific ways. More information about these criteria will be released in the summer of 2018.
For preliminary planning, your plan should meet or exceed the state plan in weekly benefit, leave duration, premium amount and more.
What you need when applying
The fee for applying for a voluntary plan is $250. This applies only to the initial application. Reapprovals for the first three years do not require a fee.
What you’ll need after your application has been accepted
Once a voluntary plan is approved, it will go into effect on the first day of the following calendar quarter.
You will need to have your plan reapproved each year for the first three years. After three years, you’ll need to reapply only if your plan changes.
If you are operating a voluntary plan, your employees will file claims for benefits directly with you or your designated third-party agent.
All reporting requirements of the state plan, which include wages and hours worked for all employees, will still be required of voluntary plan operators. Additionally, voluntary plan operators will be required to report weekly benefit usage and leave information for employees who take leave.
What if your application is denied?
If your application for a voluntary plan is denied, you may appeal the denial, but your business must participate in the state plan until you have an approved voluntary plan in place. There is no penalty for being denied a voluntary plan. Your application fee is not refundable.
Stay up to date about voluntary plans through our voluntary plan newsletter.