Washington State Implements New Sick Leave Laws Starting January 1, 2018

When voters in Washington State voted into existence a new minimum wage and  sick leave law on November 9, 2016, they may not have realized the new law would fail to create an uniform sick leave across the state. Currently, Tacoma, Seattle, SeaTac, and Spokane already have paid sick leave laws in place. Each law has its own unique sets of requirements, which creates a confusing maze of compliance and regulations that employers must abide by. The purpose of this article is to review the requirements and main aspects of the Washington Sick Leave Law and to highlight main differences between state and local ordinances regarding sick leave.

Important Dates for Compliance

The increased minimum wage law started on January 1, 2017. The Washington State Paid Sick Leave starts on January 1, 2018. On that date, all employees in Washington will start earning sick leave at the rate of 1 hour for every 40 hours worked. During 2017 the Washington State Labor & Industries Department will hold public hearings, meetings and will finalize the final rules before the end of 2017. This article will be updated as specific rules are finalized.

Minimum Wage Timeline

Minimum wage is set to increase every year. The set schedule for minimum wage is defined below until 2020. On 2021 and afterward, the Labor & Industries Department will determine the new minimum wage based on inflation.


Date Hourly Wage
January 1, 2017 $11.00
January 1, 2018 $11.50
January 1, 2019 $12.00
January 1, 2020 $13.50
January 1, 2021 TBD by the Labor & Industries Department

Covered Employees under Paid Sick Leave

The current initiative defines employees as every employee. The final rule-making process has just started and has not defined any specific employees for inclusion or exclusion of the law.

Exclusions to Earned Sick & Safe Time

Currently, there are no exceptions listed in the initiative for Paid Sick and Safe time. That is expected to change as local and other surrounding sick leave laws have defined exceptions to the law. Some of those common exceptions could include temporary employees, or employees who work less than a prescribed amount of hours in the state. It is also likely to include Federal Government employees. Other common exceptions are work study programs, independent contractors, union employees, or temporary workers. Sick leave laws are nearly split regarding whether or not temporary workers and union employees are included in sick leave accrual.

Allowable Uses for Sick Leave

Washington State Sick leave uses closely mirror the local city ordinances found within the state. The main difference is that Washington State Paid Sick Leave Law does not allow for bereavement due to the death of a family member. This is different than Tacoma, and Spokane. Employees will be allowed to use sick leave for themselves or for a family member who has the allowed reasons for sick leave use. That includes leave for an illness, injury or health condition. It can be either a physical or mental health condition and can be for diagnosis or preventative care. The second reason is if the employee’s business or child’s school or place or care is closed by a public official due to a health condition. Additionally, employees who are victims of domestic violence are allowed to use sick leave for reasons allowed by the Washington State domestic Violence Laws.

  • Illness, Injury, or Health Condition: Mental or Physical: To seek a diagnosis or for preventive care.
  • If the place of business, spouses place of business, child’s school, or child’s place of care has been closed due to an order from a public health official for health reasons.
  • For reasons under the Domestic Violence Law. 
  • For the employee’s need or the Employee’s family member’s need

Washington Domestic Violence Law

The Domestic Violence Law provides for a protected leave for victims of domestic violence. The law protects the employees rights to return to work, to have a reduced work schedule, or to an intermittent leave. It does not provide paid leave. However with the implementation of the Sick Leave law, employees could use their accrued paid sick leave for all the reasons allowed in the Domestic Violence Law. The domestic violence law includes domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

  • To seek legal or law enforcement assistance or remedies to ensure the health and safety of the employee or family member.
    • Including preparing for, participation in any civil or criminal proceeding resulting from domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault.
  • To seek treatment for any physical or mental  injuries caused by domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
  • To obtain counseling
  • Participate in safety planning, temporary or permanent relocation, or to take other actions to ensure the safety of the victim.

Family Member Definitions

Washington defines the allowable family member relationships. The state recognizes all biological, adopted, foster, step, legal wards, in loco parentis, and de facto parent. This is regardless of the age of the child. These relationships are for both parents and children. This is different from some local ordinances, which allow for child relationships only if the child is under 18 yrs old. Relationships that are included in the law include child, parent, spouse, registered domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild, and sibling. Some of the local ordinances, including Tacoma, have broader relationships definitions under the household relationship definitions.

  • Child
  • Parent
  • Grandparent
  • Grandchild
  • Sibling
  • Spouse
  • Registered Domestic Partner.

Accrual of Safe and Sick Time

Sick leave is accrued at the rate of 1 hour for every 40 hours worked. The current initiative is silent on whether or not overtime pay counts toward the accrual of sick leave hours. Some of the local ordinances in the state assume a 40 hour workweek for exempt employees, while accruing sick leave for non-exempt employees who work overtime. Additionally, there is no current cap in place for the amount of sick leave awarded to an employee during the year. That could change as the Labor & Industries department decides and hands out the final rules during 2017.

Sick Leave Bank and Minimum Usage

When an employee leaves an employer and reinstates with the employer within 12 months, all previously accrued and unused sick leave has to be reinstated to the employee. Additionally, the employee’s previous time of employment must be counted toward determining the eligibility of the employee for sick leave.

Although employees start accruing sick leave on the first date of employment, or January 1, 2018, whichever is last, employees have a 90 day waiting period after commencing employment before they can start using accrued sick leave.

Front Loading

Although the Initiative for Washington’s Sick Leave Laws does allow for front loading to satisfy the sick leave requirement, the initiative is silent on the required number of hours that must be satisfied. As it stands currently, the Washington Paid Sick Leave Law does not have any accrual or usage caps. The law requires that front loading meet or exceed the requirements for accrual, use and carryover. If the law continues without the Labor & Industries department placing a definition on those caps, then a full time employee could be expected to earn 6.5 days of sick leave a year. That is a far more generous amount than any of Washington’s Individual City’s ordinances and more generous than its neighboring states that have sick leave laws such as Oregon and California.

Employees can roll unused sick leave to the following year. However, employers can limit the amount of carry over hours to 40 hours.

Coordinating with Paid Time Off Policies

The Washington Sick Leave Law allows for more other Paid Time Off Policies that meet or exceed the state requirements count toward sick leave requirements. However, there are still many factors that are unclear and will be defined in 2017. This section will be updated as the rulings are finalized

Reasonable Documentation and notification of sick leave usage

Employees should give reasonable notice for sick leave. If the employee uses more than 3 consecutive days of sick leave, the employer can require documentation that sick leave was used for the reasons allowed under the law. The verification cannot cause an unreasonable expense to the employee and must be provided by the employee within a reasonable time. The law doesn’t define the types of acceptable documentation, but does specify that employers are required to keep it confidential and that the documentation required can’t exceed privacy verification methods provided by law.

Anti Retaliation

Employers are prohibited from retaliating against any employee who uses or attempts to exert their rights under the law.

Fines and Remedies provided by the Sick Leave Law

The final penalties, fines, and redress to be made by businesses who violate the law are still being determined.

Notification and Records

Employers who fail to keep records will be deemed to have violated the law. However the initiative doesn’t define the retention period or specific requirements for employers. Typically, other cities and states have required a 3 or 4 year retention period. The Labor & Industries department will determine the retention period during 2017.

Let SwipeClock Help

Businesses who have employees in St Paul or Minneapolis, and a growing list of other cities may have to comply with multiple conflicting City ordinances defining Sick leave accrual and usage laws. Additionally, these businesses have to also comply with Federal Overtime Laws, the Family Leave Medical Act and any other national or local laws that are enacted. SwipeClock provides a comprehensive array of workforce management and time tracking tools that can help businesses to more easily stay in compliance with local and national laws. Records are effortlessly kept for years and accrual is automatically tracked and reported to employees according the state and city laws. Additionally, with GEO timekeeping clocks, businesses can effortlessly track time worked in specific cities to ensure compliance.

About SwipeClock

SwipeClock is a leading provider of cloud-based integrated workforce management solutions that include automated time and attendance, advanced scheduling, and leave management capabilities. The company’s products, including TimeWorks Plus, Time Simplicity, and Workforce Management Clock enable employers to manage their most important and expensive asset-employees-by transforming labor from a cost of doing business to a competitive advantage. SwipeClock’s workforce management solutions are sold through over 850 partners that empower more than 26,000 businesses to lower labor costs, comply with regulatory mandates, and maximize their profits. For more information, please visit www.swipeclock.com.





SeaTac Paid Sick Leave Laws for Hospitality and Transportation Workers

Seattle Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance

Spokane Earned Sick and Safe Time Ordinance

Tacoma Paid Leave Ordinance

Washington’s Sick Leave Laws Across the State Chart

Written by Annemaria Duran. Last Updated on February 7, 2017

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