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New Bill Requires Seattle Employers to Provide Paid Sick Leave and Safe Time

City Council Meeting on Paid Sick LeaveOn September 12, the Seattle City Council approved Council Bill 117216, which requires businesses to provide paid sick leave and safe time to employees. The new requirement will apply to all employers with five or more employees who perform work in Seattle; workers performing less than 240 hours of work per year in Seattle will not be covered by the legislation. The bill also includes provisions to protect start-up companies and micro-businesses by extending exemptions for companies in the first two years of operation, as well as companies with four or fewer employees.

The new legislation effectively makes Seattle the third city in the U.S. to mandate paid sick leave. The other two cities are San Francisco and Washington D.C.

Watch Video of the City Council Meeting on Paid Sick Leave

What Does Paid Sick Leave and Paid Safe Time Cover?

Under the adopted legislation, employers must provide paid sick time to workers for illness or injury, for time needed for appropriate medical treatment, or for prescribed preventive medical care. In addition, workers can use paid sick time to care for sick or injured family members, or to provide care for family members needing medical diagnosis or preventive medical care.

The new requirements also extend paid “safe time” to employees when a child’s school or daycare facility has been closed in response to risk of infectious agent or hazardous substances, or for reasons related to sexual assault or domestic violence, such as participation in related legal proceedings or counseling.

What is the Amount of Leave Time?

The length of sick leave or safe time will vary according to the size of an employer.  Employment attorneys Michael Droke and Craig Peterson explain the regulations in an analysis of the new legislation published by Lexology:

  • Tier One Employers: Employees of an employer employing more than 4 but fewer than 50 full-time equivalents on average per calendar week shall accrue at least one hour of paid sick leave or safe time for every 40 hours worked. Tier One Employers need not allow an employee to use a total of paid sick time or safe time exceeding 40 hours in a calendar year.
  • Tier Two Employers: Employees of an employer employing at least 50 and fewer than 250 full-time equivalents on average per calendar week shall accrue at least one hour of paid sick leave or safe time for every 40 hours worked. Tier Two Employers need not allow an employee to use a total of paid sick time or safe time exceeding 56 hours in a calendar year.
  • Tier Three Employers: Employees of an employer employing 250 or more full-time equivalents on average per calendar week shall accrue at least one hour of paid sick leave or safe time for every 30 hours worked. Tier Three Employers need not allow an employee to use a total of paid sick time or safe time exceeding 72 hours in a calendar year.

Sick leave and safe time can be accrued over the year and carry into the next calendar year. The legislation does not require businesses with pre-existing paid sick leave policies to offer additional paid sick or safe time provided that the leave can be used for the purposes detailed above and at the same rates established in the new bill.

Employers will be required to provide workers with full information pertaining to sick leave or safe time: each time wages are paid, employees must receive a statement detailing the amount of paid time available for use. Employers can develop any system that provides reasonable access to these details, such as printing information on a pay stub or including it in an online wages and benefits system.

Councilmember Nick Licata, Chair of the Housing, Human Services, Health and Culture Committee, acted as one of the bill’s chief sponsors. In response to the outcome of the September 12 vote, he stated that “Today Seattle has shown itself as a leader. As a City, we recognize that a productive workforce is a healthy one and that a great city is one that cares for the welfare of all who work within its jurisdiction. Our Paid Sick Leave legislation accomplishes that objective.”

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw also released a statement on the bill: “To me, this is no longer a ‘sick leave’ bill, it has become a ‘wellness’ bill.  I support this wellness bill and feel positive about how it has evolved. We have more work to do, and I want to be part of that process which is why I am voted yes.”

Under the new legislation, it is illegal for employers to interfere with or refuse any worker’s right protected by the sick leave and safe time bill. Workers who have experienced a violation of the sick leave and safe time requirements should file a complaint with the Seattle Office for Civil Rights within 180 days of the violation.  Employees whose rights have been denied are also advised to contact an Employment Law Attorney.

The new regulations will go into effect September 1, 2012, giving employers a year to implement the new personnel policies.

Emery Reddy