By Lauri Dahlberg
February 13, 2018
Mandatory paid sick leave is a hot topic in the HR world today. Employees are waking up realizing the importance of taking care of themselves and the people they love, and employers are being required to respond to that reality. The State of Washington is among a number of states who enacted paid sick leave on January 1, 2018, which means businesses across the state need to include the topic in their business policies and benefit plans.
Defining Paid Sick Leave
Before discussing the paid sick leave laws, it is important to understand exactly what “paid sick leave” means. Paid sick leave is time an employee spends away from work to care for their health or safety or the health or safety of their family members without losing pay. That seems simple enough. But, when you throw legislation into the mix, the result is far more complex. The laws that have been enacted include a full spectrum of detail: defining which employees qualify for mandatory paid sick leave, determining how much paid sick leave employees must be provided, deciding what the paid sick leave can be utilized for and how the employer must communicate the benefits available.
In the State of Washington, all employers are required to provide non-exempt employees with paid sick leave under Initiative 1433. Exceptions to the law include white-collar exempt employees and outside salespeople as two examples. Basically, the law only applies to part-time, full-time, seasonal and temporary non-exempt employees. Those employees accrue sick leave at a rate of at least 1 hour for every 40 hours worked, including any overtime hours. There is no cap on the maximum accrual, employees must be allowed to use as much sick leave time as they are able to accrue in a year, and at the end of the year employees must be allowed to carry over up to 40 hours of accrued but unused sick leave to the next year. Employees may take sick leave in the same increment that hours worked are tracked, and pay is calculated at the employee’s standard rate of pay. If an employee leaves the company, but returns within 12 months, the employer must reinstate any of the accrued but unused paid sick leave.
Initiative 1433 also clarifies the events on which an employee may utilize their accrued sick leave. Per the new law, employees can use their sick leave for their own illness or medical appointment; to care for a family member (defined below); for closure of the employee’s workplace or their child’s school for health-reasons; or for domestic violence that qualifies under Washington’s Domestic Violence Leave Act. Family is defined as those who are biological, adoptive/adopted, foster, de facto, step, in loco parentis and legal guardian and covers children, parents, spouses, registered domestic partners, grandparents, grandchildren and siblings.
So what does an employer need to do? First, they must implement a sick leave benefit that is at least as generous as the state law requires and set up a system to track the accrual and usage of paid sick leave for those employees who qualify. An employer may choose to impose a waiting period of up to 90 days before new employees may begin using their accrued sick leave. If an employer wishes to require an employee to provide notice of their intent to use their accrued paid sick leave or a doctor’s note to verify the sick leave, they must have a written policy that clearly defines the requirements, and those requirements must be reasonable.
Washington’s Paid Sick Leave Law is quite complex, so employers will want to get up-to-speed on the details. The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries is a good source for information and resources in case there are additional questions.
When it comes down to it, providing employees with paid time off to take care of health and well-being is not only in the employee’s best interest. It helps create healthy, productive, appreciative employees, and that will be in any company’s best interest.
If your business is unsure of how to navigate these waters, contact your Eide Bailly professional or one of our human resources consultants. We are here to help you succeed.