Communities across Washington will get a boost to health and economic well-being in January 2018 when the new paid sick and safe leave law goes into effect. Employees who previously had to go to work with the flu or when a child is sick will be able to take time off to prioritize health and pay their bills in the New Year, without losing pay or risking their jobs.
Without the protection of paid leave laws, workers in restaurants, retail, and construction have been the least likely to have access to sick days, putting not only their own health at risk, but customers and coworkers as well.
Under requirements approved by voters in 2016, most workers in Washington will have the right to earn at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours they work starting January 1, 2018 – about 6.5 days per year for a typical full-time employee. There is no annual limit on the amount of leave someone can accrue or use in a year, but employers are not required under state law to carry forward more than 40 hours of unused sick leave from year to year.
Sick leave may be used to deal with illnesses, injuries, or medical appointments of workers or their family members – including children, spouses, parents, parents-in-law, siblings, grandparents, or grandchildren. Leave is available for health, legal, or safety concerns related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, and also when the business or a child’s daycare or school is closed due to a public health emergency (but not for snow days). Under the law, employers or collective bargaining agreements may allow use of the leave for other purposes as well, including as vacation or paid time off – which means that people who currently get PTO may see little impact.
Outside of Seattle and Tacoma, the right to sick and safe leave extends to most hourly and some salaried workers – basically, to anyone who could earn overtime pay for working more than 40 hours per week.
Because Seattle and Tacoma will continue to enforce their own sick leave laws, all persons employed within these city limits, including workers who are overtime-exempt, are entitled to at least the state’s minimum sick leave standards. In Seattle, workers in companies with more than 50 employees (measured as full-time equivalents) will continue to have higher levels of carryover. Tacoma workers will continue to also have access to sick and safe leave for bereavement.
These new rights and the boost they give to public health and family economic security are the result of the hard work of advocates and policymakers. Raise Up Washington, Washington Work and Family Coalition, and coalitions in Seattle, SeaTac, Tacoma, and Spokane have all elevated the voices of workers, small business owners, seniors, and health professionals to pass and implement these policies.
The movement for paid sick days has been national. Since 2006, eight states (including Washington) and over thirty cities have passed sick leave laws. Over that same period, the percentage of U.S. workers in the private sector with paid leave has increased from 57% to 68%.
Minimum wage is also going up across the state, thanks to community engagement in policymaking. Washington’s minimum wage will rise from $11 to $11.50 on January 1 and Tacoma’s will move to $12. Seattle’s 2018 minimum wage will range from $11.50 to $15.45, depending on the firm’s number of employees and benefit structure.
All of us benefit and our whole economy is stronger when workers can keep themselves and their families healthy and economically secure.