As many as 200,000 people in Seattle work without paid sick leave. A controversial new ordinance addresses the concern of some that employees without sick leave can’t afford to stay home when they or their family members are ill, and therefore risk prolonging or intensifying their illnesses or spreading infectious diseases to those around them.
This month, Seattle joined Washington, D.C., San Francisco and the State of Connecticut in mandating paid sick leave. Similar legislation is proposed in California and Massachusetts, and Denver residents are voting on paid sick leave this November.
According to a new Seattle ordinance, “To safeguard the public welfare, health, safety, and prosperity of the city of Seattle, all persons working in our community should have access to adequate paid sick and safe leave, because doing so will ensure a more stable workforce in our community, thereby benefiting workers, their families, employers, and the community as a whole.”
This new mandate was not passed without opposition. Opponents generally expressed support for the principals involved, but disagreed with the details of the implementation. Nevertheless, this month the Seattle City Council passed the ordinance mandating ”paid sick time and paid safety time” and it was subsequently signed by Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.
Although the new requirements don’t become effective until September 1, 2012, business may need the intervening period to review their own policies for compliance and, potentially, adapt their recordkeeping procedures or collective bargaining agreements.
Sick Time and Safe Time Defined
The new ordinance defines paid sick time and safe time as accrued hours of leave for which the employee is compensated at the same hourly rate and with the same benefits, including health care benefits, as the employee would have earned during the time the paid leave was taken.
In general, this leave can be used by employees for preventive care or the diagnosis, care or treatment of a mental or physical illness—provided either to the employee or a member of the employee’s family. It can also be used to enable the employee or a family member to seek legal or law enforcement assistance or remedies for domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
The New Paid Sick/Safe Time Mandate
Business must meet minimum standards for paid sick/ safe time for their employees working in Seattle-including temporary and part-time employees. Employees who do not work exclusively in Seattle are considered to work in Seattle for the purpose of the new mandate if they perform “more than 240 hours of work in Seattle within a calendar year.”
New businesses—those in the first two years of operation—and small businesses with fewer than five employees are exempt from the new rules.
The provisions of the new mandate are established in three distinct tiers, based on the size of the employer. Size is determined by the number of full time equivalent employees (FTEs) and generally calculated based on an eight-hour day and a five-day work week. Importantly, the calculation to establish the employer’s tier includes all of the business’ employees, whether or not they work in Seattle.
|Employer Size||Minimum Accrual
for Paid Leave
and Annual Cap
|5 to 49 FTEs||1 hr. per 40 hrs. worked||40 hours leave|
|50 to 249 FTEs||1 hr. per 40 hrs. worked||56 hours leave|
|250+ FTEs||1 hr. per 30 hrs. worked||72 hours leave|
The paid/sick time accrual begins with the employee’s first date of employment or the effective date of the ordinance, whichever is later. Employees can begin to use this accrued time after their first 180 days of employment.
Although the accrued leave carries over to the following year, under the minimum standards, employers aren’t required to allow employees to use more hours in any one year than that established by the annual cap. Employers are also not required to pay an employee for unused accrued leave at the end of the employee’s employment.
In addition to the new and small employers previously cited, there are exceptions to the mandate.
Generally, employers with PTO policies or other universal paid leave policies aren’t required to provide additional paid sick/safety leave as long as the provisions of their policies are generally consistent with the minimum requirements of the ordinance.
Employees who are covered by collective bargaining agreements are generally not covered by this ordinance, as long as the ordinance’s provisions are specifically waived in the agreement—for example, when other benefits are negotiated instead of paid sick leave. Because collective bargaining agreements must specifically waive the new paid sick/safely leave mandates to be exempt from them, many agreements may need to be modified or rewritten before the September 1, 2012 effective date.
Recordkeeping and Notification Requirements
Employers are required to maintain historical records of the hours worked and paid leave taken by their employees for a two-year period.
Medical records and documents for employees that are created as a result of this mandate must remain confidential and be maintained separately from the employees’ personnel records.
Employers must notify their employees as to their rights under the new ordinance. They can comply by conspicuously and accessibly displaying a poster created for this purpose. Employers who fail to meet this requirement are subject to civil penalties of up to $250 per violation-$125 for the first violation.
Employers who willfully violate the provisions of the ordinance are subject to a civil fine or forfeiture of up to $500. The ordinance also establishes a process by which specific alleged violations can be investigated and resolved.
For More Information
You can view a copy of new ordinance on the Seattle City Council Bills and Ordinances page of seattle.gov. Just search for Council Bill 117216.