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City of Seattle Considers Paid Sick and Safe Time Leave Ordinance

  • July 7, 2011

A private employer in Seattle would be required to provide its employees with “paid sick and safe time” to care for “their own or their family members’ health needs or their own or their family members’ safety or other needs resulting from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking…” under an ordinance proposed by Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata.  “Family members” is as defined under current Washington law (i.e., RCW 49.12.265 and 49.12.903 of the Washington Family Care Act; RCW 49.76.020 of the Washington Domestic Violence Leave Law) to include child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, and parent-in-law.

Depending on the number of workers the employer has and the number of hours the employee works, the ordinance would allow an employee in Seattle to accrue up to 72 hours of paid leave in a calendar year.  Unused, accrued time may be carried over to the following calendar year.  For use of paid leave of more than three consecutive days, employers may require notice and documentation from the employee.  While employers may already offer other types of paid leave similar to that in the ordinance, these employers nonetheless may need to modify their policies and practices to ensure compliance. 

Retaliation

It will be unlawful for “an employer or any other person to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of, or the attempt to exercise, any right protected” under the proposed ordinance.  Moreover, it will be presumed that an employer engaged in unlawful retaliation under the ordinance whenever the employer takes any adverse action against a person within 90 days after that person files a complaint with the Seattle Office of Civil Rights (“Agency”) or a court alleging a violation, informs his or her employer, union or similar organization, legal counsel, and/or the Agency about an employer’s alleged violation, cooperates with the Agency in the investigation or prosecution of any alleged violation, opposes any policy, practice, or act that is unlawful under this section, or informs any other employee of his or her rights under the ordinance.

Consequences of a Violation

Within 180 days after the occurrence of the alleged violation, an aggrieved employee may file a complaint with the Agency.  Back pay for up to two years preceding the filing of the charge is among the relief permitted under the ordinance.

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Supporters of the proposal say that public health will be improved by keeping sick employees at home.  Businesses and business groups opposing the proposal argue no accurate assessment of the impact of the proposed ordinance on the City of Seattle has yet been conducted.  They point out that an economic recession is a bad time to impose additional costs on businesses and, potentially, consumers.

Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to discuss the proposal in more detail and assist employers in voicing their concerns with the City Council.

Jackson Lewis attorney David Black was featured on KUOW radio’s The Conversation in a discussion titled, “Seattle’s Mandatory Sick Pay Proposal.”  The recording is available online at http://www.kuow.org/program.php?id=23882.

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