Background of Sick Leave Laws throughout Washington
Seattle was years ahead of Washington State to pass a Paid Sick and Safe Time Law (PSST). As the first state in to pass a sick leave law, Seattle set the trend for sick and safe time throughout the state. It took effect on September 1, 2012. However, 2016 saw significant changes for paid sick leave in local municipalities in Washington and in November voters made more changes.
Washington Paid Sick and Safe Time Leave
In 2016, Washington State Voters passed a Paid Sick Leave Initiative. The new law goes into effect on January 1, 2018. Additionally, several cities, including Tacoma, SeaTac, and Spokane have already passed sick leave laws for their cities. Each cities laws vary, but this article will address the Seattle Sick Leave ordinances and main differences between Seattle and neighboring city sick leave ordinances. The purpose is to assist employers with better compliance with employment laws and to help them avoid costly fines and penalties.
Seattle Paid Sick and Time Ordinance (PSST) Overview
According to Seattle’s PSST laws, the number of sick days and safe time differs, based on the size of the employers. Employers are classified as tier 1, 2 and 3 employers based on the number of full-time employees.
Tier One employees have between 5 and 49 full-time employees and have to award employees 1 hour for every 40 hours worked up to a minimum of 40 hours per year.
Tier Two employers employ between 50 and 249 full-time employees and are required to award employees one hour for every 40 hours worked, but have to provide a minimum ceiling of 56 hours a year. This is due to the assumption that larger employers are less affected by employee time off than smaller employers.
Tier Three employers have 250 or more full-time employees and are required to provide 1 hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. The minimum ceiling for tier three employers is 72 hours a year. Each employer tier must allow the employee to roll up to the accrual limit over to the following year. Tier one employers must allow employees to roll up to 40 hours a year over, while tier 2 must allow 56 hours, and tier three must allow up to 72 hours a year.
|Employer Tier: # of Employees||Sick Leave Accrual and Usage|
|Tier 1: 5-49 Employees||1 hour for every 40 hours worked up to 40 hours each year|
|Tier 2: 50-249 Employees||1 hour for every 40 hours worked, up to 56 hours each year|
|Tier 3: 250+ Employees||1 hour for every 30 hours worked up to 72 hours each year.|
it is important to note that there is no cap on the accrual rates each year, only on the usage rate. A Tier 1 employee may be capped to using 40 hours of sick leave in a year, but may actually accrue 50 hours. That means that they can roll the extra 10 hours to the following year. That same employee can still be capped at using a total of 40 hours the following year, but could still accrue additional hours above the cap limit and roll those hours to the following year.
Who is covered under the Sick and Safe Time Ordinance
All employees who are employed or work in Seattle City limits that work at least 240 hours in a year are covered under the sick leave law. That includes full time, part-time, and occasional-basis employees. Employees who telecommute in Seattle and who stop in Seattle as part of their work are also covered.
Exceptions to the Seattle Ordinance
The sick leave and safe time laws apply to all employees, legal workers, illegal workers, workers stationed outside of Seattle that still work occasionally in Seattle, temporary and other employees. There are a few exceptions to the law including Federal, State, and County government employees. Employees who work or telecommute outside of Seattle are also excepted from the law as are employees who travel through Seattle. Students enrolled in a work-study program are not included in the law. Lastly, employees who work in Seattle for less than 240 hours during the year are not covered. Volunteers are also not covered under the law. 240 hours is just over 6 full-time weeks.
Union employees may waive their rights to sick and safe time under a collective bargaining agreement. However, individuals may not.
Allowed Uses under PSST
Paid sick and safe time can be used for three main reasons. First, employees can use the time to help themselves or a family member to care for an illness or for preventative care. Second, it can be used for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking to seek assistance, Third, it can be used when a workplace or a child’s school is closed by a public official to limit exposure to infectious agents, biological toxin, or hazardous material.
- Mental or physical illness, injury or health condition: to diagnose, care or get treatment. This includes Preventative Care.
- If the employee’s place of business has been closed, or a child’s school or place of care has been closed by a public official to limit exposure to infectious agents, biological toxin, or hazardous material.
- For reasons related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking that affect the employee or family member
- All of these reasons are applicable to the employee’s need or for the employee to help a family member with these needs.
Accepted Family Members for Sick and Safe Time
Seattle uses the same accepted family relationships defined by the State of Washington. Washington defines the allowable family member relationships in both a 2003 document and the new Washington State Sick Leave Law. There are two main differences. Under the new Sick Leave Laws, 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 relationship definitions under the household relationship definitions.
- Registered Domestic Partner
In addition, Seattle also allows for household members for sick leave usage. Tacoma borrowed the same definition from Seattle when their sick leave laws were enacted.
Household Member Definition
Household member includes, in addition to spouses and domestic partners, ex-spouses and ex-domestic partners. Persons with a child in common, even if they don’t live together, are also included. The law also recognizes adults related by blood or marriage, adults who reside together or who have resided together in the past. Additionally, 16 yr old persons who have had or do have a dating relationship and who do or have resided together in the past are included as are stepparents, stepchildren, and grandparents, and grandchildren.
- Former spouses and former domestic partners
- Persons with a child in common
- Adult persons related by blood or marriage
- Adults who reside or who have previously resided together
- Roommates who are 16 years old or older (Not specifically defined in Tacoma Ordinance)
Tracking Employee Hours are Important
Businesses are required to track employee hours. This is true of employees deemed “occasional basis employees” who primarily work outside of Seattle, but whose employment brings them in and through Seattle city limits. Tracking employees hours is critical because employers are required to notify an occasional basis employee once they have worked in Seattle for 240 hours during that calendar year that they are now eligible to start accruing paid sick leave. The 2016 updates to the law now require that once an occasional basis employee meets the 240-hour threshold, their 240 hours toward eligibility now count toward the accrual of sick and safe time. Another 2016 change to the law states that once an occasional use employee qualifies for sick and safe time, they remain eligible for paid sick leave during the entire duration of their employment. This is a change from the previous rule, which granted eligibility for only the following year. Lastly, the calendar year was changed to reflect any 12 month period for eligibility. Employers are allowed to delegate the tracking of hours worked in Seattle to the employee. There has to be a system where the employee reports those hours back to the employer.
Further, employees are required to retain all records and reporting of their employees, time worked, and paid leave for three years, instead of the previous two. In-house payroll and benefits tracking is difficult without a good payroll system. This is especially important the requirements for timesheet and employee accounting are specific and differ based on the employee type and the employer tier.
Employees can be required to use sick and safe time in 1-hour increments.
|Full Time Equivalent (FTE)||5-49 FTEs||50-249 FTEs||250+ FTEs|
|Paid Sick and Safe Time Accrual||1 hour per 40 hours||1 hour per 40 hours||1 hour per 30 hours|
|Unused Hours that can be carried over (Per year)||40 hours||56 hours||72 hours. 108 Hours for employers with PTO.|
|Exceptions to the Seattle Ordinance||Federal and State employees, unpaid interns, work-study, volunteers, and independent contractors||Federal and State employees, unpaid interns, work-study, volunteers, and independent contractors||Federal and State employees, unpaid interns, work-study, volunteers, and independent contractors|
|Bereavement||Not included||Not included||Not included|
|Inclement weather||Not included||Not included||Not included|
|Definition of a Year||Benefit Year, Any 12 months benefits are given||Benefit Year, Any 12 months benefits are given||Benefit Year, Any 12 months benefits are given|
|Occasional Work Employee||Any employee that works in Seattle 240 hours or more in a benefit year.||Any employee that works in Seattle 240 hours or more in a benefit year.||Any employee that works in Seattle 240 hours or more in a benefit year.|
Calculating Full-Time Equivalent
Employers must use all employee hours to calculate full-time equivalent. This includes full and part-time employees, temporary employees and employees who work outside of Seattle. The employer should add up all the hours worked by the employees during the year and divide that number by 40. Next, the employer should take that number and divide it by 52 (weeks of the year). That will give the employer the Full-Time Equivalent average of their total employees and tell them which tier they qualify for. Employers must count all of their employees, even employees who work out of state.
Probationary Period, Overtime, and Exempt Employees
Employees start accruing sick and on their first date of employment. However, employers can restrict the use of sick and safe time for the first 180 days of employment. There is a restriction included in the Ordinance for Tier 1 and Tier 2 employers that allow employers to restrict the usage of Paid Sick Leave for the first 2 years of employment. That means that new employees can be restricted from using or accruing sick and safe time for the first 2 years of employment.
Employees who work overtime continue to accrue sick and safe time for their overtime hours. However, this does not apply to exempt employees. Exempt employees are assumed to work based on a 40 hour week and do not accrue additional sick leave above 40 hours a week.
Sick Leave Bank
Employees who leave employment and return to the same employer retain their sick leave for seven months. If they are reinstated by their employer within a seven month period, all of their previously accrued and eligible sick and safe time must be reinstated to them. Further, their previous period of employment counts toward their eligibility to use the sick and safe time. If the employee has satisfied their 180 days of employment or 2-year waiting period, or part of the waiting period, all of that previously worked time is counted toward their total time worked.
Coordinating with other Paid Leave Policies
Companies who provide other types of paid leave including Paid Time Off, Personal Leave or other types of leave do not have to provide additional leave to satisfy the Seattle Sick and Safe Time Ordinance provided that the leave is as generous or more generous than the required leave. Paid time off must be allowed to be used for the reasons provided in the law and must be awarded at an accrual rate that is equal or better than the required accrual rate, based on company tier size.
Sick and Safe Time must be tracked and employees must be notified of their accrual and usage rates each pay period. However, if the employer chooses to front-load the minimum amount of sick and safe time to employees at the beginning of the year, they do not need to notify employees each pay period of their accrual rate. In fact, they do not need to track accrual rate. Additionally, employers who front load sick and safe time do not need to roll over unused, accrued hours to the following year.
Employees can be required to provide notice of foreseeable sick leave usage of at least 10 days notice unless employers have a policy that requires less time. If the employer has a policy that requires advanced notice and the employee forgets to notify the employer, then the employer can deny sick leave usage as long as there are no other mitigating factors. When the leave is unforeseeable, the employee must notify the employer as soon as it is reasonable.
Employees who take 3 or more consecutive days of sick leave can be required by their employer to provide proof that sick leave was used for an acceptable reason. This can be a closure notice for the public closing of a school or place of care. It can also be a health care providers note, a police report, evidence from the court, documentation from an advocate, attorney, clergy member, or the employee’s written statement. It is vital that employers still maintain privacy rights and confidentiality. If the employer doesn’t provide health insurance to the employee, then the employer must bear 50% of the cost of the requested documentation.
Employers may not require documentation for leaves of less than 3 days unless there is a clear and documented pattern of abuse.
Employer Notification and retaliation
Employers must give employees notice of their rights under the ordinance. This could include posting a poster at the workplace, providing notice to new employees, or including the information in an employee handbook. In addition, employers must notify employees in each pay stub.
Further employees are protected from retaliation for using or attempting to use their rights under the law. This does not prevent employers from disciplining employees who use or abuse sick leave time. It does protect employees who legitimately use sick and safe time. Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights (SOCR) oversees compliance and enforcement of the law.
Redress for Non-Compliance with the New Employment Laws
Penalties and redress can be stiff. Employers who violate the new laws can face penalties, fines, and repayment of sick leave time. Remedies can include up to two years of back pay, the value of lost benefits, attorney fees, and a fine for emotional damage of up to $10,000. Additionally, the employer can face a private lawsuit.
In addition to tracking employee time, employers must retain a record for three years for sick and safe time compliance. This is an expanded period from the previously required two year retention period. This includes tracking employee’s accrued and used sick and safe time, and their hours worked. Having an automated timekeeping system can be a vital component of the record keeping aspect. Additionally, GPS Time Clocks can automatically record when occasional basis employees are working in Seattle.
National Sick Leave Policy
Nationally, there are no sick leave laws requiring sick leave. The Seattle sick time ordinance does not include time off for bonding after giving birth, only for medical implications. However, the FMLA, (Family and Medical Leave Act) require unpaid sick leave with job protection for Seattle employees that meet certain requirements. Employees must have been with their employers for at least 12 months previously. Seattle employers who have 50 employees or more within a 75-mile radius are required to honor FMLA. Smaller employers are not required to provide FMLA leave.
Compliance with Seattle City and National Time and Attendance Laws
It is more important than ever for both large and small employers to have the tools in place that helps them track employee hours and be able to provide reporting in regards to employee hours time cards. Payroll companies need to provide software tools that can work for both their larger and smaller Seattle businesses. In addition to Seattle’s paid sick and time ordinances, there are many other state-specific laws in place regarding employee time card and benefits. These laws have massive fines and penalties applied to them for companies that violate the regulations.
Payroll companies can protect their clients by offering an accurate time and attendance software that provides the proper reports and maintains retention. This will ensure that their clients do not pay the fines and penalties that other businesses are likely to pay. SwipeClock provides both the time and attendance tools and the workforce management software for employers to track and provide the reports that prove they are complying with state laws. SwipeClock partners with payroll companies and accounting firms to provide timeclock and workforce management solutions that help businesses to stay compliance with both Federal and State regulations. One of the most important aspects of compliance is the ability to provide the required reporting of employees, benefits, and hours worked from an audit standpoint. Payroll providers need a simplistic approach of one software that can serve both their small and larger corporations. SwipeClock can provide one solution for accountants that tracks and creates the reporting needed for their clients.
Let SwipeClock Help
Businesses who have employees in Seattle, Tacoma, SeaTac or other parts of Washington 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 to the state and city laws. Additionally, with GEO-timekeeping clocks, businesses can effortlessly track time worked in specific cities to ensure compliance.
City of Seattle Paid Sick Time Off and Safe Time Ordinance. 2016. Retrieved from ://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/CivilRights/psst-faq.pdf
Orr, Dylan. Paid Sick and Safe TIme Ordinance. Office of Labor Standards. 2016. http://www.seattle.gov/laborstandards/ordinances/paid-sick-and-safe-time
Written by Annemaria Duran. Last Updated on February 7, 2017
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