This story originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle and is republished here under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license. Read more stories at oregoncapitalchronicle.com.
Oregon workers can apply for benefits through the state’s new paid leave program starting Aug. 14.
The program, Paid Leave Oregon, covers family leave, medical leave and safe leave for Oregonians with jobs. Oregon is the 12th state in the nation with paid family and medical leave for workers, due to a bill the Legislature passed in 2019. Oregonians can qualify for leave for reasons that include:
- A child arriving in their family, whether through birth, adoption or a foster care placement.
- Caring for themselves due to a serious health condition.
- Caring for a family member with a serious health condition.
- If they or their child experience sexual assault, domestic violence, harassment or stalking. This is called “safe leave.”
Oregon Employment Department officials determined the trust fund, which collects employee payroll deductions and employer contributions, will be solvent and ready to launch benefits the week of Sept. 3. As a result, this will be the first week workers can start their paid leave. Payments will go out within two weeks of when their leave starts, state officials said.
“We’re opening up the application process a little early so we can handle that big influx of initial applications we expect,” said Karen Madden Humelbaugh, director of Paid Leave Oregon.
Humelbaugh said the state cannot retroactively pay people who took leave before Sept. 3.
State officials expect the demand to be high initially and level out. They project about 41,000 workers will file claims for leave during the initial launch and that figure will eventually level out to about 12,000 claims a month.
One reason why the initial period will see more claims is because workers can take leave due to the birth or arrival of a new child into the family within the first year.
“You do have all those folks who maybe their child is 10 months old, so they could take the last two months or something like that,” Humelbaugh said.
To apply for leave, employees will use the Oregon Employment Department’s new online system called Frances Online.
Employees can now go to the employee overview page and find many resources, including a guidebook.
Detailed information for employees, including eligibility requirements, tutorial videos, a benefits calculator, and much more, will be available on the Paid Leave website on Aug. 14.
How it works
In January 2023, employers and employees started contributing to a trust fund that will pay for employee paid leave benefits. Workers will be eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid leave annually, or 14 weeks for pregnancy-related medical leave.
In 2021, state lawmakers delayed the start of contributions for one year, from January 2022 to January 2023, as the Oregon Employment Department worked on a project to modernize its technology during the pandemic.
Employers and employees fund Paid Leave Oregon with a combined total contribution of 1% of gross payroll. Employees pay 60% and large employers with 25 or more employees will contribute the remaining 40%.
For an employee who makes $50,000 in annual gross wages, the worker’s share is $300 annually and the employer will contribute $200.
Employers with fewer than 25 employees are not required to contribute, but their workers still pay into the program and are eligible.
Part-time employees, or those with multiple jobs, are eligible.
The program will pay benefits on a sliding scale, based on how much employees make. Many low-income Oregonians will be eligible for all their paychecks while on paid leave. For example, Oregonians making minimum wage will receive 100% of their regular pay while on paid leave.
It’s a smaller share for high-income Oregonians. For example, someone earning $2,555.78 a week – about $133,000 annually – would get $1,469.78 a week in paid leave.
Most employees are covered, with the exception of tribal governments, independent contractors and self-employed business owners. However, they can choose to participate in the program.
Federal government employees are not eligible.
Employers that offer equivalent paid leave benefits can opt out of the state’s program.
During the 2023 legislative session, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 31, which requires the Oregon Employment Department to make sure the Paid Leave Oregon trust fund is solvent before starting any benefits.
“Just like any new statewide program of this size, we know we will have to adjust along the way,” Humelbaugh said. “SB 31 was good contingency planning, and we will continue to work with the Legislature and other key partners as we monitor the program’s progress after launch.”