Seattle's New Sick and Safe Leave Ordinance – How Local Law Can Affect Employment
Whether people realize it or not a great deal of law affects their employment. There are laws affecting employment made by Congress at the federal level (e.g. Fair Labor Standards Act). There are laws affecting employment made by the Washington legislature at the state level (e.g. Washington Minimum Wage Act). And perhaps less well known there are laws affecting employment made by local government bodies, like the Seattle City Council.
One example of a law affecting employment made by a local government body is Seattle’s new Sick and Safe Leave Ordinance, which was enacted on September 12, 2011. The ordinance requires most employers in Seattle to provide paid sick and safe time (“PSST”) to their employees working within the city limits and to allow those employees to accrue and carryover PSST from year to year.
Under the ordinance “sick time” can be used for an employee’s or a family member’s illness or for preventative care. Family member includes a child, grandparent, parent, parent-in-law, spouse, or registered domestic partner. “Safe time” under the ordinance can be used for time not worked for safety reasons (e.g. the need to attend to matters arising from domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking or the closure of business or schools to limit exposure to infectious agent, biological toxin or hazardous material).
One important aspect of the ordinance is that it specifically protects employees who use their PSST. The ordinance makes retaliation illegal by prohibiting employers from disciplining or discriminating against employees who have availed themselves of their PSST. Employees are permitted to make complaints of retaliation in writing to the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, which will investigate the complaint. If a violation of the ordinance is found, the remedy “may include (but is not limited to) hiring, reinstatement or upgrading with or without back pay, lost benefits, attorney’s fees, or such other action as will effectuate the purposes of this chapter, including action which could be ordered by a court…” (Seattle Municipal Code 14.16.080(F)(2))
The ordinance only went into effect on September 1, 2012, and so far there do not appear to be any court opinions addressing the ordinance. But given that the breadth of the ordinance is likely to affect most employers in Seattle, it seems inevitable that the entire ordinance or portions of it will be the subject of future litigation.
In any event employees should be aware that local laws like this ordinance can have a large impact on their employment.