City Hall

Council Committee Passes Paid Sick Leave Ordinance; More Changes to Come

By Erica C. Barnett August 10, 2011

The city council's housing and human services committee passed a compromise version of an ordinance mandating that Seattle employers provide paid sick leave. However, the committee agreed to hold the ordinance in full council until September 12 to resolve several council members' outstanding issues with the proposal, including the fact that it requires larger employers to provide more sick leave more quickly; the fact that restaurant and other workers who swap shifts in lieu of taking paid time off forfeit that sick leave; and the fact that employees at large companies can't swap shifts, among other concerns.

The ordinance adopted today already includes numerous concessions to employers. In addition to allowing shift swaps in lieu of sick leave (something the restaurant and bar industry pushed for), it exempts very small businesses (those with fewer than five employees, excluding about 33,000 workers in Seattle); excludes work study employees from sick leave requirements; requires employees to work at least 120 hours a year inside Seattle to be eligible for sick leave; ensures that all employees must wait six months before they can take paid sick leave (previously, employees at large companies only had to wait 90 days); reduces the amount large employers must pay toward employees' health care costs if they require them to provide a doctor's note saying they're actually sick; and several other minor changes.

Richard Conlin, who said he still had "some issues of concern I feel are outstanding," zeroed in on the fact that restaurant workers who trade shifts lose their right to sick leave in proportion to those shifts, calling it "kind of a cynical attitude toward the employee." The council adopted that policy as part of the compromise at the behest of restaurant owners who argued employees would pretend to be sick during a less desirable shift---say, a Wednesday night---in order to trade for a more desirable shift, like a weekend night.

"We probably haven't moved as far as some people would like, but on the other hand, we probably have moved too far for some other people," legislation sponsor Nick Licata said.

The bill would require employers to provide as many as nine paid sick days per year, depending on the size of the employer and the number of hours an employee worked during a year.

According to a national 2010 poll, most Americans support requiring employers to provide paid sick leave.
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