Daisy Caballero, Anthony Macuk (KGW), KGW Staff
PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — The Oregon Employment Department has started accepting applications for Paid Leave Oregon, a new program that will provide eligible Oregonians with up to 12 weeks of paid time off from work for family, medical or safety needs starting Sept. 3. The launch makes Oregon the 11th state to provide some sort of guaranteed paid leave for workers.
The Oregon Family Leave Act already guarantees Oregonians the right to take up to 12 weeks off for parental or medical leave, but it’s unpaid time off unless the employee has vacation time saved up or a company voluntarily covers it. The law only requires employers to maintain an employee’s health insurance benefits and keep their job available for them when they return.
Paid Leave Oregon adds guaranteed pay during the time off, funded by contributions that employees and employers statewide all began paying back on Jan. 1 in order to give the program several months to build up a reserve. The Oregon Legislature passed a bill establishing the program in 2019.
Eligibility and types of leave
The program is widely available, but there are some restrictions. Applicants must live in Oregon, and they must have made at least $1,000 in the year before they apply. Most types of workers are eligible — temporary, seasonal, part-time, full-time, self-employed and people who work for more than one employer — although federal government employees are not eligible.
Family leave includes time off for the birth of a child or to bond with a child in their first year after birth, adoption or foster placement. Medical leave is for employees who need to care for themselves or a family member with a serious health condition. Safe leave is for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, harassment or stalking, or for employees whose children are experiencing one of those situations.
Employees must notify their employers at least 30 days before the planned start of their paid leave, and they cannot apply for benefits more than 30 days before the start date. The paid time off can be taken all at once or intermittently, such as by working some days each week and taking others off.
Employers who already provide equal or better paid leave benefits can apply for “equivalent plan” status, which exempts them and their employees from paying into the state program. Employers with equivalent plans can choose to cover the entire cost, or they can deduct employee contributions as long as they don’t exceed what the employee would otherwise pay into the state program.
Employees receive their state benefits through direct deposit or a debit card, rather than from their employer (unless their employer has a state-approved equivalent plan). Benefits are based on the employee’s income for the prior year, with an upper limit of 120% of the state average weekly wage, which as of the 2023-24 fiscal year is $1,269.
Employees who make less than 65% of the state average weekly wage — currently about $825 per week — will be reimbursed at 100%. Employees who make more than 65% of the state average will be reimbursed at 100% for that first $825 and then 50% for whatever they make beyond that, up to the overall cap of 120% of the state average.
Employees are legally allowed to receive Paid Leave Oregon benefits at the same time as benefits provided by their employer such as paid vacation time, but it’s up to individual employers to decide whether to allow their employees to do so. Employers can also choose to allow employees to use their paid time off at a rate that, when combined with their state benefits, totals up to their regular weekly pay rate.
How to apply
Oregonians can start taking leave under Paid Leave Oregon on Sept. 3, but applications for benefits can be submitted starting Monday in order to make sure the initial claims get processed in time. Benefit payments will begin going out within two weeks of Sept. 3, according to Paid Leave Oregon.
Oregonians can apply online through the state’s Frances Online system, a portal that launched Monday to process paid leave claims. The application process takes about 30-60 minutes, according to state officials, depending on how many documents and other supporting material the employee needs to provide.
“Starting Aug. 14, our website will have an employee tool kit with a lot of great resources that include an employee guidebook, videos that show folks how to create an account in Frances Online and a checklist with helpful information about what you will need to apply,” said Paid Leave Oregon director Karen Humelbaugh.
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