Amendments to the Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave Act (“WPFMLA”) that went into effect June 11, 2020 include a new private right of action for employees. Under the WPFMLA, employers are prohibited from interfering with, discriminating against, or retaliating against employees exercising their rights under the Act. Previously, any claims of interference, discrimination, or retaliation could only be brought through the Washington Employment Security Department (“ESD”), which would conduct an administrative investigation and adjudication. While an employee may still choose to raise his or her claims with ESD, the newly-amended WPFMLA now allows employees to instead choose to bring direct claims against employers by filing suit in court. Class actions are also expressly allowed by the Act.
What does this mean for Washington employers? With ESD currently overwhelmed by unemployment claims, it is reasonable to expect that most WPFMLA claims will now be raised directly by employees in the courts. And with more options for pursuing WPFMLA claims – and many employees taking COVID-related leave – we could soon see an increase in litigation in this area. It is now more important than ever to ensure that you are complying with the WPFMLA. See here for more details about employers’ obligations under the Act.