Seattle Considers Paid Sick Leave Mandate
Seattle may join San Francisco, Milwaukee, and Washington D.C. as one of the few cities to require “paid sick and paid safe time” for all employees if a proposed ordinance passes later this summer.
The legislation, introduced by City Councilman Nick Licata, would require businesses to provide employees with “paid sick and safe time.” The ordinance would mandate paid leave “to take care of their own or their family members’ health needs or their own or family members’ safety or other needs resulting from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.”
In its current form, the ordinance mandates the amount of leave based on the size of the business:
• Businesses with 1 – 49 full-time employees: Each employee must accrue at least 1 hour of paid time off for every 50 hours worked, for a maximum of 5 days (40 hours) off in a year;
• Businesses with 50 – 249 full-time employees: Each employee must accrue at least 1 hour of paid time off for every 35 hours worked, for a maximum of 7 days (56 hours) off in a year;
• Businesses with 250 or more full-time employees: Each employee must accrue at least 1 hour of paid time off for every 30 hours worked, for a maximum of 9 days (72 hours) off in a year;
• Businesses with 1,000 or more employees using paid time off (PTO), such as a plan that combines vacation and sick time: Employees must receive the equivalent of at least 1 hour for every 15 hours worked, with at least half the time available for paid sick time.
Any unused “paid sick and paid safe time” must be carried over to the following calendar year, but the carryover may not exceed the limits outlined above (5 days, 7 days, or 9 days).
Employers that already have a paid leave policy, such as a PTO policy, will not be required to provide additional paid sick and safe time leave, provided that the PTO policy may be used for the same purposes.
The accrual rates discussed above reflect changes made to the proposal after conferences with business owners around Seattle. The ordinance drafters also included other provisions intended to allow small business owners more flexibility, including:
• Allowing workers to swap shifts rather than take paid sick leave; and
• Implementing a waiting period before workers could start using their accrued paid time off. Employees would have to wait 180 days before using their paid leave if employed by a business with fewer than 250 employees. For larger businesses, employees would have only a 90 day waiting period before paid leave is available.
If the ordinance is implemented, businesses with fewer than 250 full-time employees would have one year to implement a compliant paid leave policy, while employers with 250 or more full-time employees would have only 180 days. Businesses opening or relocating to Seattle with fewer than 250 full-time employees would have two years to implement a compliant paid leave policy.
The measure remains controversial. As the Seattle Times reported, advocates of the ordinance say that it will improve public health by keeping sick employees and their children at home. Small business owners argue that the costs of the program could be staggering to businesses with a small profit margin and a large number of part-time workers. The Seattle Chamber of Commerce is concerned that the legislative timeline is too short for the level of discussion needed to accurately assess the impact of the legislation.
For more information on the proposed ordinance and how it might affect your business, please contact Foster Pepper’s Employment and Labor Relations Practice Group.