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Seattle's New Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance Takes Effect September 1, 2012

August 24, 2012


The new Seattle Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance takes effect in eight days, on September 1, 2012. Under the new ordinance, Seattle becomes the fourth city in the country to require employers to provide paid sick leave and safe leave to employees who do even occasional work within Seattle's city limits.

The new law has a broad reach: it applies to any business that has any employee who does any work in Seattle. It likely requires many employers to revise or replace their existing sick-leave or PTO policies, and it requires all employers to provide notice of the ordinance to any potentially affected employees as soon as possible. The law is dense and detailed, and can be tricky. Below are some key (or curious or difficult to manage) aspects of the ordinance to be aware of:

  • It requires paid leave;
  • It applies to any employer with five or more full-time-equivalent employees located anywhere;
  • It applies to exempt employees as well as nonexempt employees;
  • It applies to employees who work within the city limits of Seattle, even if they only do so occasionally (e.g., any employee who performs a majority of work outside Seattle, but works within the city limits for 240 hours or more in a calendar year);
  • It requires that an employer allocate leave to its employees at a specific rate determined by the number of employees that employer had in the preceding calendar year;
  • It requires that leave be calculated on a calendar year basis, not a fiscal year or other basis, regardless of an employer's other leave policies;
  • It requires that leave earned but not used in one year be carried forward to the following year and available for use (so a use-or-lose-it policy will not comply);
  • It applies not only to illness, but also time off related to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking;
  • It forbids employers from requesting documentation (e.g. a doctor's note) until an employee has had three consecutive workdays of absence for a covered reason;
  • It restricts the types of documentation that employers may request (something that will become difficult if the employee's condition also constitutes a disability or may be covered under the FMLA, both of which allow employers to ask for more detailed information than this ordinance allows); and
  • It requires employers to provide updated information about how much leave is available to the employee each time an employee is paid, either on a pay stub or through some other method.

If you would like additional information about the new ordinance or to discuss what your company should do in the coming week to comply with it, please contact an employment lawyer at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt.