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Seattle Paid Sick and Safe Leave: Whether or Not You Have Employees in Seattle… Don’t Fail to Read This!

Seattle is the most recent jurisdiction to enact paid sick and safe leave.  Pay attention; you may be next!

Starting September 1, Seattle employers must provide job-protected paid time off to employees for their own or a family member’s health and safety reasons.  Seattle joins San Francisco, Washington D.C., and the state of Connecticut in requiring paid sick/safe leave.  A host of other locales (including New York City, Denver, Miami-Dade County, and others) are wrestling with the issue as advocates of paid sick and safe leave become increasingly active.  Check here for a summary of the status of paid sick and safe leave initiatives throughout the country.

Most recently, on August 29, backers of a paid sick leave ordinance in Orlando succeeded in getting the measure on the November ballot.  If passed, the law would require employers in Orlando to provide paid time off to part-time and full-time workers who are sick or are taking care of a sick family member. Under the terms of the ballot measure, employees would earn one hour of sick time for every 37 hours of work, with a 56-hour cap.  Disney opposes the measure.

In recent years there has also been a move to enact national paid sick leave requirements.  The proposed Healthy Families Act (H.R.1876/S.984) would provide 15 days of paid leave per year for an employee’s or family members health and safety needs.

A Growing Trend.  Why is this trend toward paid sick and safe leave growing?  Here’s why:  More than 40 million private sector workers – 40 percent of the workforce –don’t have access to earned paid sick days. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 2011).  This causes workers to choose between going to work ill or missing work and pay – and possibly facing discipline or termination.

This article presents a summary of the Seattle law’s key provisions and links to the ordinance and other materials available online.  It also raises considerations for non-Seattle employers; clearly, this is a trend employers need to follow. If you have any questions, please call or email Reed Group.

 

What should Seattle employers do?

  • Get professional assistance to help you comply.  The new law is lengthy and complex.  If your company has any employees who work in Seattle – even occasionally – you should review the ordinance in full and seek expert support if you have any questions.
  • Determine whether to institute a separate leave program or meet the requirements with your existing plan.  Whether you turn to Reed Group, your outside benefits advisor or legal counsel, or an internal stakeholder group, you will need to make some decisions.  For a summary of considerations, see Littler Mendelson’s article Seattle Paid Sick Time and Paid Safe Time Ordinance Adopted.

 

 

 

What should non-Seattle employers do?

  • Be aware of the growing trend toward mandated paid sick and safe leave.  Keep an eye out for legislation that may impact your organization.
  • Begin thinking about how you would manage and administer a similar requirement for your organization. Is your organization ready to start tracking and reporting on accrued and available PTO with each pay cycle for every employee?  Administration and compliance could be a real burden for an organization.
  • Develop your own paid leave programs. If you don’t provide paid sick time or broad PTO time now, it may be wise to gradually expand or redesign your program.  It is highly likely that more jurisdictions will follow and organizations are starting to see PTO as a necessary benefit.

 

Call Reed Group if you are not sure where to start. We can help you understand the new ordinance better. If you’d like to read more about what is happening in Seattle, see below.

Seattle Overview. The Seattle Paid Sick Time and Paid Safe Time Ordinance (the Ordinance or PSST) becomes effective September 1, 2012. The Ordinance requires private employers with more than 4 full-time equivalent employees to provide their employees who work in Seattle with accrued, job-protected paid time off for any one of several reasons related to health and safety issues.

The amount of paid leave required depends on the size of the employer. The Ordinance contains accrual, carry-over, documentation, notice, and enforcement provisions.

Covered Employers. Private employers who employ more than 4 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, at least one of whom works in Seattle, must comply with the Ordinance. The employer’s size is determined by counting all of its employees in any location, not just those who work in Seattle. The City of Seattle is also a covered employer, but the Ordinance does not include other public employers such as federal, state, and other local governments.

Eligible Employees. All employees (part time, full time, temporary, occasional) who perform work in Seattle for more than 240 hours in a calendar year are eligible for leave accrual and usage under the Ordinance. An employee may be covered even if the employee only occasionally works in Seattle. In such case, however, PSST can only be used for work time that would have occurred within Seattle.

Independent contractors and individuals engaged through a work-study program are not eligible for PSST.

Breaks in Service. If an employee is separated from employment and rehired by the same employer within 7 months of the date of separation, the previous period of employment is counted toward the employee’s eligibility (240 hours worked) and waiting period for usage (180 days of employment). However, the total time of employment counted toward eligibility and the waiting period must occur within 2 calendar years.

In addition, previously accrued and unused paid sick/safe time is reinstated for the employee’s use upon rehire within 7 months.

Amount of Leave. The amount of PSST a covered employer must offer depends on the employer’s size. The annual accrual cap and allowable carryover of leave from year to year also depends on the employer’s size. PSST is calculated per calendar year. Covered employers fall into the following 3 tiers:

  Number of Employees in Prior Calendar Year PSST Accrual Rate per Calendar Year Annual Usage Caps Annual Carry-over Caps
Tier 1 More than 4 – 49 FTEs 1 hour per 40 hours of work in Seattle 40 hours 40 hours
Tier 2 50 – 249 FTEs 1 hour per 40 hours of work in Seattle 56 hours 56 hours
Tier 3 250 or more FTEs 1 hour per 30 hours of work in Seattle 72 hours

OR

108 hours for combined PTO programs

72 hours

OR

108 hours for a combined PTO program

An employer may satisfy the Ordinance through an existing time off program as long as the above entitlements are met, the permitted reasons for leave include those specified by the Ordinance, and the procedures for use are no more onerous than the Ordinance. A “combined PTO program” refers to an employer program that provides a single amount of paid time off per year that can be used by the employee regardless of reason (e.g., illness, vacation, family needs, etc.).

Current employees begin to accrue PSST on September 1, 2012. Accrual rates do not apply to hours worked before this date. Employees hired after September 1 will accrue PSST hours starting on their first date of employment.

An employer is not required to pay out any accrued but unused Seattle Sick and Safe Leave upon an employee’s separation from employment.

Who Can Use PSST and When? An employee can use accrued PSST for the following reasons:

Sick Leave:

  •  To deal with their own illness, injury or health condition;
  • To take care of a family member with an illness, injury or medical appointment (child, grandparent, parent, parent-in-law, spouse, and registered domestic partner)

Safe Leave:

  • When the employee’s workplace or child’s school has been closed by order of a public official for health reasons;
  • Because the employee or a family or household member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. “Family or household member” is defined very broadly for the usage of safe leave.

Eligibility dates for new employees or new employers. Generally, employees can use accrued PSST starting on the 180th calendar day after their employment commenced, including days worked before the effective date of the Ordinance. Employees of new employers (or existing employers who newly qualify under Tier 1) can use PSST after 24 months from the hire date of the employer’s first employee. Examples can be found on the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) website in the FAQs section.

Notice Requirements

Employer Notice: Covered employers must post or provide paper or electronic copies of a notice explaining employee rights under the Ordinance. A sample poster in English provided by SOCR is available here. Posters are also available in other languages.

A more challenging notice provision requires employers to provide employees with notice of available PSST each time wages are paid, through the employee’s paystub and/or an online system.

Employee Notice: The Ordinance allows employers to enforce their usual absence reporting procedures, provided that they don’t “interfere with the purpose of the leave.” Otherwise, the Ordinance allows the employer to require the following notices:

  • Foreseeable leave: a written request at least 10 days in advance of leave, or as early as possible, that identifies the type of leave needed, the dates and amount of time, and a contact person for the employee during the absence
  •  Unforeseeable leave: “as soon as practicable” under the facts and circumstances
  • Safe leave: end of the first day of leave for domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking

Documentation. No documentation can be required for absences of 3 or fewer consecutive work days. If the absence exceeds or will exceed 3 work days, then the employer can require the employee to provide documentation.

Documentation for sick leave in excess of 3 work days: An employer can require a note from a health care professional. The statement should not reveal the nature of the illness or other private medical information. The employer may be required to pay 50% of the cost of obtaining the documentation if it is not covered by health insurance.

Safe Leave. An employer can require documentation of the need for safe leave such as a police report a court order, or just the employee’s own written statement. The employer cannot require an explanation of the nature of the domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

Recordkeeping. Employers must keep records of each covered employee’s hours worked in Seattle, hours of PSST accrued, and hours of PSST used.

Enforcement. SOCR administers and enforces the Seattle Ordinance. Covered employers are prohibited from retaliation by disciplining or discriminating against an employee who has exercised a right under the Ordinance. This anti-retaliation provision applies to all Seattle employers, regardless of size.

Resources. The above information is a short summary of the provisions the Ordinance. The Ordinance itself is 29 pages and supporting materials provided by SOCR exceed 40 pages. For more information and useful documents and forms, visit the Seattle Office for Civil Rights website, check out their FAQs, or read the Ordinance and the supporting Administrative Rules.


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