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Seattle Enacts Ordinance Requiring Paid Sick Leave and Paid Safe Time

September 29, 2011

Seattle recently enacted an ordinance that requires certain employers to provide their employees with paid time that can be used as either paid sick leave or paid “safe time” leave. The new legislation, which was adopted by the Seattle City Council on September 12, 2011 and signed into law by Mayor Mike McGinn on September 23, requires that companies with five to 249 employees provide each of their Seattle employees with one hour of such paid time for every forty hours worked. Companies with 250 or more employees must provide at least one hour of such paid time for every thirty hours worked.

Seattle’s paid sick leave/safe time ordinance, which will take effect on September 1, 2012, requires employers to provide paid sick leave that can be used for absences resulting from an employee’s own mental or physical illness, injury or health condition, or to care for a family member with a mental or physical illness, injury or health condition. The ordinance further provides for paid safe time when an employee’s place of business has been closed by order of a public official to limit exposure to a hazardous material, and to accommodate an employee’s need to care for a child whose school or day care facility has been closed for such reason. The ordinance also provides for paid safe time to enable an employee to seek legal or law enforcement assistance or remedies to ensure the health and safety of the employee or the employee’s family member in connection with domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. This aspect of the ordinance includes seeking treatment for physical or mental injuries, counseling, and participating in safety planning, relocation and other measures to increase the safety of the employee or his or her family member.

Employers with fewer than five employees are exempt from the ordinance’s requirement to provide paid sick leave or paid safe time. The ordinance also exempts new businesses from the requirement to provide such paid time until two years after the hire date of their first employee. Employees covered by the ordinance include those individuals who perform more than 240 hours of work in Seattle within a calendar year. It should be noted that an employee who is not covered by the ordinance is nevertheless included in any determination of the size of his or her employer.  Thus, any employer that has five or more employees anywhere in the country must provide this leave to any employee who works in Seattle for more than 240 hours in a year.  With respect to employees who are exempt from the payment of overtime pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act, their employers are not required to accrue leave on their behalf for hours worked beyond a 40-hour work week.  

Employers are required under the ordinance to provide notice to employees of their right to the paid sick/safe time leave. The ordinance prohibits retaliation against employees who exercise their right to take paid sick leave or paid safe time, and makes clear that employers may not count such paid time as an absence that may lead to an adverse action against an employee. The ordinance further requires that, 18 months after the effective date of the ordinance, the Seattle Office for Civil Rights and the Seattle Office of City Auditor provide the City Council with an evaluation of the impact the ordinance has had on employees and employers.

Among the other jurisdictions that currently require employers to provide paid sick leave to employees are San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Connecticut has also enacted a paid sick leave law that will take effect on January 1, 2012.

For more information, please contact the professional(s) listed below, or your regular Crowell & Moring contact.

Kris D. Meade
Partner – Washington, D.C.
Phone: +1.202.624.2854
Rebecca L. Springer
Partner – Washington, D.C.
Phone: +1.202.624.2569