As most Seattle employers know by now and as we blogged about earlier, beginning September 1, 2012, the City of Seattle will require that all but the smallest employers provide paid sick leave to their Seattle employees. Seattle Paid Sick and Safe Time (PSST) mandates that most employers provide paid leave, which increases depending on the size of a company’s workforce. Once employees have worked 180 days or more, they must be allowed to use PSST for their own or their family members’ illnesses, as well as for certain safety-related reasons.
We are getting many questions from employers about this new leave mandate. This update will provide answers to some common questions.
Remember that you need to notify Seattle employees of their PSST rights by September 1. We are here to assist you in administering this new leave. Below are a few common questions that may come up.
Q: What general notice do we have to provide our employees?
A: Regularly Work in Seattle. As of September 1, 2012 or soon thereafter, current Seattle employees (of employers of any size) should receive notice of their PSST rights, and new employees should receive such notice at the time of hire. This can be accomplished in several ways:
- A poster displayed conspicuously and accessibly in your usual posting place,
- A notice to employees provided in employee handbooks or similar employee guidance, and/or
- A notice to employees handed out to each new employee upon hiring.
The notice can be given either electronically or on paper. The City of Seattle’s model notice and poster (in a number of languages) are available online (scroll down to “Resources” box in right column).
Occasional Seattle Employees. If your only Seattle employees are those who work in Seattle occasionally and not on a regular schedule, you do not have to provide notice to all employees, provided that notice is given to occasional-basis employees reasonably in advance of their first period of work in Seattle.
Q: What notice do we have to provide our employees regarding their PSST accruals?
A: Each time wages are paid, employees who are accruing PSST (even those who have not worked 180 days yet) must be given information (either on paper or in electronic format) about the amount of PSST they have available.
Q: What categories of employees are covered by the law, and what leave must these employees be given?
A: Regularly Work in Seattle. These are employees (regular part-time or full-time, and temporary) who regularly work at least 240 hours per year in Seattle, either at your workplace, by teleworking from a Seattle location or by traveling from another location to regularly work in Seattle. These employees begin to accrue leave on September 1, 2012, and can take it as soon as they have worked 180 days or more (even if those 180 days occurred before September 1, 2012). Leave is only required to be provided during times the employee is working in Seattle.
Occasionally Work in Seattle. These are employees (regular part-time or full-time, and temporary) who occasionally work in Seattle, not on a schedule. These employees begin to accrue leave for every hour they work in Seattle after the 240th hour in a calendar year, and can take leave on their 181st day of employment (even if some or all of those 180 days occurred before September 1, 2012). You can begin to count these employees’ Seattle hours as of September 1. You can delegate to employees the duty to track “Seattle hours” as long as you notify them of this and provide a reasonable way for them to track hours. Once an occasional employee is covered, he or she is covered for that calendar year and the following calendar year. Leave is only required to be provided during times the employee is working in Seattle.
In order to determine accruals, you must determine your Tier Size. See our past post for further information on Tier Size and accrual amounts.
Q: How do we figure out what rate of pay employees earn during leave?
A: Generally. Employees earn the rate of pay they would have earned during the time PSST is taken—but only for hours they were scheduled to work. Employees need not be paid for lost tips or commissions, but must receive at least Washington’s current minimum wage ($9.04 in 2012).
Nonexempts. Employees who would have been paid overtime during their PSST hours need only be paid their regular hourly rate of pay.
Exempts. Employees receive an hourly rate of pay by dividing the annual salary by the number of weeks worked per year, to get the weekly salary, and dividing the weekly salary by the number of hours of the employee’s normal work week.
Q: How do we coordinate PSST with other leave, including paid leave such as Short-Term Disability and other Income Replacement Policies?
A: PSST may run concurrently with other leave (such as FMLA) where both apply, and can be provided as a part of paid leave policies (such as vacation, sick and PTO) if those policies meet the eligibility, use, accrual and carryover requirements of PSST. Determining how you will do this and how to amend your policies must be done on a case-by-case basis. The language of your short-term disability leave arrangement, whether provided via insurance, policy or a plan, also requires a case-by-case review.
Please contact Keelin Curran or your Stoel Rives attorney with your questions regarding coordination of PSST with other leave benefits.
Beginning September 1, 2012, the City of Seattle will require that all but the smallest employers provide paid sick leave to their Seattle employees. Sick leave mandates under the new law increase depending on the size of a company’s workforce, and employees must be allowed to use the leave for their own or their family members’ illnesses (“Paid Sick Leave”), as well as for certain safety-related reasons (“Paid Safe Leave”).
Seattle employers should use the coming months to plan how to best structure their paid leave programs to comply with the new law. The law has posting requirements and allows complaints to the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, including recovery of damages where violations are found (but not private lawsuits). Employers have an opportunity to provide comment to the City regarding the law before rules under the law are issued (see below).
Key aspects of the comprehensive new Paid Sick Leave and Paid Safe Leave ordinance include:
- Coverage. Employers of five or more full-time equivalent (“FTE”) employees (employees working outside Seattle must be counted) are covered. Employees, including temporary and part-time employees, who work in Seattle at least 240 hours in a calendar year, must be allowed to accrue leave.
- Waiting Period. Leave accrues from date of hire, but employees cannot begin to take leave until 180 calendar days after date of hire.
- Mandated Leave and Minimum Caps. The amount of required leave increases with the number of FTE employees. Employers in the different tiers are required to allow their employees to accrue leave at the following minimum levels:
- Tier One Employers of 5-49 FTE employees must provide at least one hour of accrued paid leave time for each 40 hours worked, up to a minimum ceiling of 40 hours per year.
- Tier Two Employers of 50-249 FTE employees must provide at least one hour of accrued paid leave time for each 40 hours worked, up to a minimum ceiling of 56 hours per year.
- Tier Three Employers of 250 or more employees must provide at least one hour of accrued paid leave time for each 30 hours worked, up to a minimum ceiling of 72 hours per year.
- Basis of Accrual. Non-exempt employees accrue leave time based on hours actually worked. Exempt employees’ leave accrual is based on their regular weekly schedule, up to 40 hours maximum.
- Carryover Required; No Payout on Termination. Mandated carryover is required for up to the same amount of leave time employers are required to allow an employee to accrue in any given year. (For instance, for employers of 49 or fewer, up to 40 hours may be carried over.) Payout on termination is not required.
- Special PTO Requirement for Largest Employers. Tier Three Employers that use a “universal” paid leave program (usually referred to as “paid time off” or “PTO”), rather than dedicated sick leave, must provide more paid leave under the law than those employers with dedicated sick leave. Tier Three Employers must allow accrual of at least 108 hours of paid leave per year and allow carryover up to the same amount.
- Leave Use. Leave can be used for the following purposes:
- Sick Leave. Absence resulting from an employee’s or a qualifying family member’s illness or injury, including diagnosis, treatment and preventative care. (Qualifying family members are the same as under Washington’s Family Care Act: spouse, registered domestic partner, child, parent, parent-in-law or grandparent.)
- Safe Leave. Absence (1) related to domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault of an employee or qualifying family member (amount of leave allowed and qualifying family members are the same as under Washington’s domestic violence leave law), or (2) due to a public health-related closure of the employee’s place of business or a child’s school.
- Notice and Certification. An employee must provide at least 10 days’ notice of foreseeable leave, and must generally follow employer notice policies. Certification of leave use is limited to leaves of three or more days. Where the employer does not provide health insurance, the employer must pay at least half of medical costs associated with obtaining the certification.
- Considerations and “To-Dos.”
- Opportunity for Comment to the City. Employers have the opportunity to provide comments to and receive updates from the City of Seattle related to the implementation of the law. An FAQ is expected by the end of the year on their website, and draft rules in the spring of 2012. Write to Elliott Bronstein at the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, at firstname.lastname@example.org, to be included in the notification list, and with any questions or comments you have about the law.
- Collective Bargaining Agreements. The ordinance allows unions to expressly waive their members’ rights under the law. To avoid application of the law, employers should take steps to negotiate with their unions for a “clear and unambiguous” waiver and put it in writing.
- Review Sick and Related Leave Policies, Including Short-Term Disability Policies. Employers must review policies and consider whether changes are needed to meet requirements under the new law.
- Special PTO Requirements. Tier One and Tier Two Employers should make sure their PTO policies meet the requirements of the law to avoid having to provide additional paid sick and safe leave. Tier Three Employers that use a PTO program need to allow accrual and carryover of additional paid leave as described above.
Stoel Rives is here to help employers plan for the implementation of this law on September 1, 2012, and will be providing comments to the City about the law in the near future. Please contact us for assistance.
The touchstone in any litigation regarding termination is fairness. A jury will look to see if the employee was treated fairly given the circumstances, or if the employer acted in an arbitrary and unfair manner. An employer should always ask, "Is this termination fair to the company? To the employee? To our customers? To our shareholders?"
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- Written materials guiding you through the important steps leading up to a termination
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