As most Oregon employers are aware, the long-awaited paid family and medical leave program begins January 1, 2023. Enactment of the paid leave program, now called Paid Leave Oregon, was delayed over the past few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the program is now set to begin with employers and employees paying into the program beginning January 1, 2023, and employees becoming eligible to apply for benefits September 3, 2023.
Following the trend in a number of western states, Paid Leave Oregon provides employees with up to 12 weeks of paid leave for certain qualifying events. Qualifying events include:
- caring for and bonding with a child during the first year after the child’s birth or placement through foster care or adoption;
- caring for a family member with a serious health condition;
- caring for the employee’s own serious health condition; or
- seeking medical, legal, or law enforcement assistance for the employee or the employee’s minor child or dependent related to domestic violence, harassment, sexual assault, or stalking (also called “Safe Leave”).
Paid Leave Oregon also expands the definition of “family member” employers have traditionally used under OFLA to include not only a spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, and grandchild, but also anyone related by blood or a close relationship that is equivalent to a familial relationship.
In some cases, employees may be eligible for more than 12 weeks of leave. Individuals with complications related to pregnancy may receive an additional 2 weeks of paid leave. In addition, employees eligible for OFLA can take up to an additional 4 weeks of unpaid leave. However, employees cannot take more than 16 weeks of leave (paid and unpaid) in one year, and must take OFLA/FMLA and Paid Leave Oregon concurrently if the reason for taking Paid Leave Oregon also qualifies for OFLA and/or FMLA. Paid Leave Oregon may be taken intermittently and is in addition to Oregon Paid Sick Leave.
To be eligible for leave, the employee must have:
- earned at least $1,000 in the year prior to taking leave;
- contributed to Paid Leave Oregon;
- had a qualifying event;
- submitted an application for benefits; and
- not received workers’ compensation or unemployment benefits during the same period for which benefits are sought.
Paid Leave Oregon is funded through a combination of employer and employee contributions. Employees contribute 60 percent or the total contribution rate (which is set annually, but cannot exceed more than 1 percent of wages) and employers contribute 40 percent. The contributions are withheld from the employee’s paycheck. Employers with less than 25 employees are not required to contribute to the fund, but are required to collect the employee portion. Applications for leave and benefits are processed and administered by the Oregon Employment Department (OED), although employers can opt out of the program by applying to use an “equivalent plan” administered by the employer or an insurance company, provided the plan offers benefits equivalent to Paid Leave Oregon.
To use the program, employees submit an application to OED. OED will then notify the employer of the request for leave and process the application. Employers are permitted to respond to the request and provide additional information to OED within ten days. OED will then make the final decision on granting or denying benefits.
At this point, employers need to be prepared to begin withholding on January 1, 2023. In addition, employers are required to post a model poster and notify employees of the program and withholding. We also expect that as the year progresses and we approach September 3, 2023, the state will continue to issue guidance and revisions to the Administrative Rules implementing the Paid Leave Oregon program. Jordan Ramis will continue to provide updates and our own guidance to help you navigate this significant new program.