This article contains a correction.
On September 3, 2023, benefits begin under Oregon’s paid family and medical leave law, which was passed in 2019. Oregon will be the ninth state with a paid leave program to be fully implemented, joining California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Washington state, and the District of Columbia. Colorado, meanwhile, is scheduled to begin payments for its program in 2024—to be joined by Delaware, Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota in 2026.
Here are the key facts about the law.
What will the law do?
Starting September 3, 2023, Oregon’s law will guarantee workers in the state the right to paid family and medical leave when they cannot work due to serious health or caregiving needs.
Who does the law cover?
The law covers virtually all employees in Oregon, including both private sector and state and local government employees. It covers employees regardless of employer size and includes both full-time and part-time workers. Self-employed people and Tribal governments can voluntarily opt in to coverage.
What kinds of leave does the law provide?
Oregon’s law provides:
- Medical leave to address workers’ own serious health conditions, including pregnancy
- Caregiving leave to allow workers to care for a loved one with a serious health condition
- Parental leave to provide workers the time to bond with a new child
- Safe leave for certain needs when workers or their loved ones experience sexual or domestic violence
Who is eligible for benefits?
To be eligible, workers need to have earned at least $1,000 in total over a designated one-year period prior to taking leave.
Benefits are portable, meaning that income earned across all covered Oregon employers in the base period counts toward the total. This means that someone who recently changed jobs can count income from their past job as well as their current job, while someone with two jobs can count income from both. In other words, workers keep their eligibility for the monetary benefits, even as they change employers, and may be eligible for monetary benefits as soon as they start with an employer if they were previously eligible.
How much time can workers take?
Oregon’s law breaks benefits into three categories: 1) medical leave, including for pregnancy or recovery from childbirth; 2) family leave, including parental leave and caregiving leave; and 3) safe leave. Workers can receive up to 12 weeks of leave per benefit year.
In addition to the amounts described above, workers can take up to two additional weeks of leave “for limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition, including but not limited to lactation,” for up to a total of 14 weeks in a benefit year.*
What family members can workers use leave to care for?
For the purposes of Oregon’s law, a family member includes a worker’s spouse or domestic partner, child, parent, sibling, grandchild, or grandparent, as well as many additional relationships by marriage. The definition of family also includes “any individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with a covered individual is the equivalent of a family relationship.” This additional category ensures the ability of Oregon workers to care for chosen family members—loved ones to whom they may not have a legal or biological relationship.
Will workers’ jobs be protected while they take leave?
As long as they were employed by their current employer for at least 90 days prior to their leave, employees have the right to specific employment protections under the law. This includes the right to get their job, or an equivalent job, back following covered leave; employers with fewer than 25 employees may be able to restore the employee to “a different position with similar job duties and with the same employment benefits and pay.” Employees who receive health insurance through their employer also have the right to keep their coverage while on leave.
Employers are prohibited from interfering with employees’ rights or retaliating against employees for using those rights.
How much money will workers receive when they take leave?
Wage replacement rates—the percentage of their own income that workers receive while on leave—are progressive under Oregon’s law. This means lower-income workers receive a higher percentage of their own income, with a sliding scale of lower percentages as workers earn more. Progressive wage replacement balances the need for lower-income workers to receive as high as possible a percentage of their own income while on leave with the need to keep program costs, which are ultimately borne at least in part by workers, affordable.
- 100 percent of the portion of their weekly wages that is less than or equal to 65 percent of the state average weekly wage
- 50 percent of the portion of their weekly wages that is more than 65 percent of the state average weekly wage
Benefits are capped at 120 percent of the state average weekly wage. Under current numbers, the maximum weekly benefit is $1,523.68, and 65 percent of the state average weekly wage is equal to $825.30.
How does the state pay for the program?
The program is funded through contributions from employers and employees as a percentage of income, which began on January 1, 2023. Currently, employees pay 0.6 percent of their income, while employers pay 0.4 percent. The amount of income subject to the contribution is capped at $132,900 for each employer the employee works for, which may be adjusted in response to inflation. Employers with fewer than 25 employees are not required to pay the employer share of the contribution, which the fund absorbs; employees at small employers pay the same amount as those at larger employers.
In the future, the total rate will be adjusted annually based on program usage, with employees and employers continuing to split the total rate 60-40.
How will workers access benefits?
Like other state paid leave programs, Oregon’s law operates as an insurance system. This means that, typically, when workers need benefits, they apply to the state, which will process their claim and pay benefits out of the state insurance fund. Employers do not need to pay employees while they are on leave.
Employers can request special permission to provide benefits through an equivalent plan. With an approved equivalent plan, workers are entitled to the exact same benefits but apply for and receive benefits from the equivalent plan, such as a commercial insurance policy, rather than through the state. Equivalent plans are subject to strict rules and oversight.
When Gov. Kate Brown (D-OR) signed it into law in 2019, Oregon’s paid family and medical leave law was a triumph for all Oregonians. With the start of benefits, that triumph will come home to working people and their families across the state who can take the paid, protected leave they need when they need it—the real finish line for a policy many years in the making.
*Correction, August 22, 2023: This article has been updated to accurately state the number of weeks of paid leave available under Oregon’s paid leave law. The correct number of weeks is 12 weeks, plus up to two additional weeks for certain needs related to pregnancy and childbirth.