City Hall

Council Prepares to Pass Paid Sick Leave Ordinance Largely Intact

By Erica C. Barnett September 8, 2011

The city council will vote on an amended version of the paid sick leave ordinance on Monday. Six of nine council members have signed on to the legislation, which requires all employers with five or more employees to provide paid sick leave, with a few amendments since a council committee adopted a "compromise" version of the legislation last month. Council members have spent the last week hammering out the details of the proposal.

Most of the amendments are pretty innocuous (and don't include any of the changes predicted by the Stranger this week in an over-the-top article about "an 11th-hour push" by "industry" to "gut sick leave").

The actual amendments include:

• A requirement that the city perform a "full and objective evaluation" of the impacts the law has had on businesses after it's been in effect for a year;

• A doubling of the number of hours employees must work inside city limits, from 120 to 240, before they can start accruing paid sick leave. This amendment is a concession to employers who are headquartered in Seattle but whose employees actually work outside city limits, and to those that hire seasonal workers.

• A slight shift in the rate at which paid sick leave hours accrue. Previously, the legislation divided employers into four groups by size---three "tiers" plus and "major employers" with more than 1,000 employees, with employees of Tier 1 companies (those fewer than 50 employees) accruing one hour per 50 hours worked, employees of Tier 2 companies (those with 50 to 250 employees) earning one hour per 35 hours worked, employees of Tier 3 companies (those with more than 250 employees) earning one hour per 30 hours worked. Additionally, "major employers" could provide generic paid time off for vacation or sick time, as long as they provided at least twice as much time off total as Tier 1 employers.

The new version of the legislation eliminates the major employer category and gives both Tier 1 and Tier 2 employees one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked. (The Tier 3 requirement remains the same). Additionally, all employers will be allowed to provide paid time off in lieu of sick leave, as long as the time off is equivalent to 1.5 times the amount of sick leave they'd otherwise be required to provide.

• While the original version of the legislation allowed "employer-initiated" shift swapping for all businesses, the new version restricts shift swapping to restaurants, including those that employ more than 250 people (previously, employers with more than 250 employees were exempt).

• The "rehire" provision, under which seasonal employees who get hired back can count previously accrued sick leave toward their total, has been changed slightly: Where the old version required employers to count sick leave accrued as much as nine months before an employee is rehired, the new version shortens that to seven months. In other words, if you work for a company, leave, and get rehired more than seven months later, you lose any sick leave you've accrued.

• The effective date of the ordinance, which originally varied based on the size of the company, is now September 2012 for companies of every size.

• Finally, the new version of the ordinance eliminates the right to file a private legal action in superior court. Individuals can still take their employer to court, but only after filing a complaint with the city's Office for Civil Rights and appealing that office's ruling to a hearing examiner (the lawsuit would consist of an appeal of the hearing examiner's ruling). The change could make it difficult for employees to file a class-action suit against an employer, because OCR deals with individual complaints, not group ones.

The legislation is being jointly sponsored by Nick Licata and Tim Burgess, who initially expressed some skepticism about the original, much tougher, sick-leave proposal. Only Richard Conlin, Sally Bagshaw, and Tom Rasmussen have not signed off on the proposal, giving it a veto-proof majority.
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