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.
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.
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 through an online tool, which is under development and expected to become available in late summer 2018.
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.
Reporting rules will be written during Phase 2 of the rulemaking process. If you would like 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 8 weeks of paid leave and the compensation of the final 2 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.
The Voluntary plan application process is being developed during summer 2018. Applications will be submitted through an online website. Applications are expected to be available in September 2018.
We expect some changes to this process throughout 2018. Please use these guidelines to prepare, and please check our website for up-to-date information. You are also encouraged to sign up for our listserv specific to voluntary plan information and updates, here, and our general newsletter here.
An employer who chooses to apply for a voluntary plan will need to develop a program that meets or exceeds the state plan. Before you start the application process, you should have a voluntary plan that meets this requirement.
You will need a UBI and a business name to apply for a voluntary plan.
The voluntary plan application is organized in a series of questions about your plan. Provided you have all the information prepared ahead of time, the application submission process is short. NOTE: This is new technology that will increase in sophistication and features over the coming months. As of August 2018, the website only allows for one login per application. Multiple administrative accounts cannot be linked to the same application, so please designate one person to submit the application through the website.
You will be asked to upload your Paid Family & Medical Leave policy documents at the end of the application. You can upload up to 10 files, with a file size limit of 5MB each. Acceptable file types are: .pdf, .doc, .docx, .xls, .xlsx, .tif, .tiff, .jpeg, .jpg, .png.
The fee for applying for a voluntary plan is $250. Your application will not be considered complete until you have completed the fee payment. You can pay by credit/debit card or check through the secure payment gateway at the end of the application process.
After Accepted Application
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 you make a change that is not legally required. Reapproval in these first three years doesn’t require additional payment.
If you are operating a voluntary plan, your employees will file claims for benefits directly with you or your designated third-party agent. It is important to remember that the employer bears the responsibility under this law, regardless of whom it has delegated operation.
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 are required to report weekly benefit use and leave information for employees who take leave.
Voluntary plans are subject to audits to confirm the maintenance of the plan.
What if your application is denied?
If your application for a voluntary plan is denied, your business must participate in the state plan. There is no penalty for being denied a voluntary plan. Your application fee is not refundable. Denials may be appealed within 30 days, and more information about the appeal process will be available in late 2018.
Stay up to date about voluntary plans through our voluntary plan newsletter.
Our most recent newsletter was sent on July 12th, 2018 and can be found here.