Flu season is in full swing and a recent Seattle Times story urges people to get flu shots and, if they have the flu, to stay home. Staying home allows for faster healing by making it easier to get rest, hydration, and medications, and helps prevent the spread of the flu, or any illness for the matter. However, many people still go to work sick. There are a number of reasons for going to work sick. For instance, some people will need the income, will not have enough or any sick leave, or will feel compelled to show up for fear of losing their job. Even though employees feel these pressures to go to work sick, and employers prefer their employees show up when they are scheduled, many employers also prefer their employees stay home to prevent the spread of the illness, which could cost the employer more. The Washington House of Representatives just passed a bill that would require employers with four or more employees in Washington to
provide mandatory sick leave. However, it still needs to pass the Senate. Seattle, on the other hand, already has a sick leave ordinance and employees and employers should be able to find a happy medium during flu season.
Seattle’s Mandatory Paid Sick Leave
In 2012, Seattle put its mandatory paid sick leave ordinance into effect. Under the city’s ordinance, any full-time, part-time, or temporary employee or anyone who works at least 240 hours within
Seattle’s city limits is covered. There are a few exceptions to this coverage. For instance, state and federal employees are not eligible, and neither are unpaid interns or independent contractors. But, those that are covered accrue an hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked in Seattle, or for very large employers, every 30 hours. The accrued sick leave may be used for personal illness or to care for sick family members. It may also be used as SAFE time in cases of domestic violence or public health closures of businesses or schools. Both uses allow employees, even those without employer provided sick leave, to stay home when ill without losing pay. The ordinance also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who use their
sick leave appropriately. Both the paid leave and retaliation protections are good for employees, but can lead to staffing and scheduling problems for employers if employees abuse the system.
For this reason, the ordinance also provides employers a guideline for actionable signs of abuse of the provided leave. If an employer sees a pattern of abuse of the leave or an employee has an attendance problem regardless of paid leave time, then an employer may take disciplinary steps, including termination. These disciplinary steps would not be considered retaliation, since the employer would have a legitimate reason, abuse of the system, and/or actual attendance problems. Additionally, employees are still required to follow their employer’s rules for scheduling or notifying the employer of needed sick leave. With paid sick leave, employees are able to heal and employers can avoid potential outbreaks.
Dealing with illness, particularly long-term illness, and employment can be stressful. If you have been denied promised sick leave benefits or suffered retaliation for taking reasonable leave, an HKM employment law attorney can help.