Although paid sick leave is not yet a federal law, more and more cities and states are enacting their own paid sick leave laws. The newest member to join the movement is Washington State.

Starting January 1st, 2018, Washington State employers will be required to provide all non-exempt employees paid sick leave. Yes, this includes part-time and seasonal employees as well.

Prior to state law being voted on in November 2016, four major Washington cities already had paid sick laws in place. Since cities and states have the power to create different laws that don’t always have to be in unison with one another, it makes it a little more challenging for employers and employees alike to navigate these somewhat murky waters.

Not to worry, we’ll help you steer through these tricky channels to smooth sailing in open waters. Here are few things you need to know.

Paid Sick Leave Laws: The Basics

Seattle set the trend for paid sick time laws back in 2012 when it was the first Washington city to do so. Since then, three more cities have followed – SeaTac, Spokane, and Tacoma. All of these cities have their own variation and interpretation of paid sick leave in regards to who qualifies and how quickly time is accrued among other provisions.

However, now that the state has passed a paid sick leave law, that will override what the cities have in place – if the city laws provide less protection than the state laws. If the laws of the of the city provide greater protection, they have to continue to follow those laws in addition to meeting any state minimum requirements – meaning the cities can’t lower their standards.

For example, as per the new state law, an employee will accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours of work. The current ordinance in Seattle allows for a faster accrual rate for employees of ‘large’ employers at a rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked. Therefore, Seattle must continue to follow their current accrual rate because it provides better protection for the employee.

On the other hand, Seattle puts a longer wait time for eligibility of new employees at 180 days. The new state law requires accrual to start on the 90th day of employment. Thus, the city will have to comply with the state law of 90 days because it offers better protection to the employee than what is currently in place by the city.

So while the cities can’t lower their level of protection to the employee, they also need to pick it up a notch to in certain cases to meet the state minimum requirement.

Paid Sick Leave Laws: The Particulars

Now that you have the basic understanding that the state can giveth but not taketh away, here are some other things you need to know.

Who’s covered? All non-exempt employees covered under the Washington Minimum Wage Law are also covered by the Washington Sick Leave Law. This includes full-time, part-time, seasonal, and temporary employees.

How can it be used? For an employee to care for themselves or a family member. If an employee’s workplace or their child’s school or place of care is closed by a public official for any health-related reason. It can also be used for absences that qualify under the state’s Domestic Violence Leave Act. Employers are also at liberty to include additional qualified uses, such as bereavement, as they see fit.

What does it amount to? As we mentioned before, the accrual for paid sick time starts on the 90th calendar day of employment at a rate of one hour per 40 hours worked. If you work 40 hours a week for 50 weeks (two weeks shy of one year) you will accrue 50 hours of paid sick time. If you don’t use all the sick time you’ve accrued throughout the year, you can carry over up to 40 of those unused hours to the next calendar year.

For instance, if you’ve accrued 50 hours for the year and it’s December 31st, you can only carry over 40 of those hours. Unless the individual employer allows you to carry over more than the state minimum, you’re going to forfeit 10 hours.   

What Employers Need to Know About Paid Sick Leave Laws

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to be in full compliance with both the state law and any local ordinance that is currently in place. The best way to do this is to communicate the requirement of the laws to your employees, but more importantly, communicate your iteration of the law.  

For example, the state does not prohibit sick time to be front-loaded. This means employers can choose to front-load sick time so the employee can take the time before it has been accrued. Even though a business owner can do this, they are still required to track the accrual rate and provide additional sick leave for employees that accumulate more sick leave than what was front-loaded at the beginning of the year.

If you have a lot of full-time 40 per week employees, the math is pretty simple as a 1:1 ratio – one hour per one week of work. But if you’re like most small business owners, you probably have a lot of part-time employees that are working an odd number of hours like 11, 12.5, and 18.90. That’s going to make the math a little more complicated when it comes to figuring out their sick leave accrual for the week, the month, or the year.  

Luckily for you, Homebase offers a Paid Time Off (PTO) feature that allows you to create a paid sick leave policy for all your employees. You simply set the accrual rate and PTO will be automatically calculated.

If you’re not currently tracking PTO for your employees, it’s time to start. Industry experts estimate that employees use three untracked PTO days per year. As a business owner, that can quickly add up and cut into your profits. If an employee is earning $100 per day ($1,000 every two weeks) and they use three untracked PTO days, that’s $300 per year, per employee that you’re losing.

The Bottom Line

If you work or own a business in the state of Washington, paid sick leave is coming your way. Since the ordinances vary from city to city, always check the local policies to ensure your business is in compliance and that your employees are receiving the benefits they’re entitled to. Failure to do so could result in a costly and lengthy legal battle that could have serious repercussions on your business.  The law is intended to provide protection for both you and your employees – make sure you’re both protected and in compliance.

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