Oregon employment officials prep for launch of paid leave program 

Oregon employment officials are preparing for a monumental undertaking: the launch of the state’s new paid leave program.

The program, Paid Leave Oregon, covers family leave, medical leave and safe leave for Oregonians with jobs. Starting Monday, Oregon workers can apply for benefits through the state’s new paid leave program. The first day workers can take paid leave through the program is Sept. 3. 

Oregon is the 12th state in the nation with paid family and medical leave for workers, thanks to a bill the Legislature passed in 2019. Oregonians can qualify for leave for reasons that include:

  • Having a new child, 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.
  • Experiencing themselves or if their children experience sexual assault, domestic violence, harassment or stalking. This is called “safe leave.”

Oregon Employment Department officials said in a press call on Wednesday they anticipate they’ll need to make adjustments as the program starts and they learn more about how it works and the needs of Oregon. 

Thousands of Oregonians will benefit from the program. Officials estimate about 41,000 claims for benefits initially and an average of 12,000 claims a month afterwards.

“We’ve heard through social media from expectant parents eager to take bonding time with their babies and from couples with surgeries planned to need time for caregiving,” said David Gerstenfeld, director of the Oregon Employment Department. “We expect to adjust and make fixes as we go, working with our partners and our customers and taking feedback.”

How to apply

To apply for leave, employees will use the Oregon Employment Department’s new online system called Frances Online

Employees can 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 more will be available on the Paid Leave website on Monday, Aug. 14.

The Monday start of the application process gives Oregonians a chance to prepare for the start of the program, especially if they want to go on leave when the program’s benefits start on Sept. 3. The takeaway: People can go on leave as early as Sept. 3, but it may take a couple weeks beyond that for the state to process their applications and pay them their benefits. 

To file a claim online the first time will take 30 minutes to an hour, said Karen Madden Humelbaugh, Paid Leave Oregon director. Payments will come through direct deposit or a prepaid debit card. There’s also an option for applicants to request a paper check be mailed, though officials recommend the other options because they’ll happen sooner.

Officials said the program’s 250 employees will be ready, whether it’s taking phone calls from people with questions or processing claims.

“We will be looking at the data in the moment, watching phone call wait times, watching our email traffic, watching our processing and making adjustments,” Humelbaugh said. “We’ll do those pivots daily that we need to for our staffing.” 

Program details 

Oregonians are paying for the program. In January 2023, employers and employees started contributing to a trust fund that will pay for benefits. Workers will be eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid leave annually, or 14 weeks for pregnancy-related medical leave.

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 earns $50,000 a year, 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 and those with multiple jobs also 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, and employers that offer equivalent paid leave benefits can opt out of the state’s program.

In 2021, state lawmakers delayed the start of contributions for one year, from January 2022 to January 2023, as the Oregon Employment Department updated its technology. 

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. 

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Ben Botkin - Oregon Capital Chronicle

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report. Botkin has won multiple journalism awards for his investigative and enterprise reporting, including on education, state budgets and criminal justice.