On November 8, 2016, Washington voters approved Initiative 1433, amending certain sections of Washington’s wage and hour laws to impose two significant requirements on employers within the state: an increase in the minimum wage and mandatory paid sick leave.

Increase of the Minimum Wage

Washington’s minimum wage for workers over the age of 18 will increase according to the following schedule:

Effective Date New Minimum Wage
January 1, 2017 $11.00
January 1, 2018 $11.50
January 1, 2019 $12.00
January 1, 2020 $13.50
January 1, 2021 and thereafter Every September 30th, the Washington Department of Labor & Industries (“L&I”) will calculate an adjusted minimum wage using the consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers for the previous 12 months to arrive at the new wage rate for the coming year.  The wage rate calculated by L&I as of September 30, 2020 will take effect January 1, 2021, and so forth.

In addition, tips and service charges cannot be included as part of an employee’s minimum wage rate.

In those cities where the minimum wage rates are higher than the new state minimum wage, the higher rates will continue to apply.

Mandatory Paid Sick Leave

Beginning January 1, 2018, every employer in Washington must provide employees with paid sick leave, with the following terms:

How much leave may an employee accrue? An employee must accrue at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.
May accrual of leave be capped? No.  The Initiative does not include any provision allowing for a cap of accrual of paid sick leave.  However, an employee may only carry over up to 40 hours of accrued leave from one calendar year to the next.
Is front-loading of leave permitted? Yes, so long as the front-loading meets or exceeds requirements for accrual, use, and carryover.
What may paid sick leave be used for? An employee may use his or her accrued sick leave for absences related to:
  • The employee’s or a family member’s illness, injury, or health condition;
  • The employee’s or a family member’s need for medical diagnosis, care, or treatment or preventative medical care;
  • When the workplace or when the employee’s child’s school or daycare has been closed by order of a public official for any health-related reason; or
  • Domestic violence-related reasons covered under chapter 49.76 RCW.
What does “family member” mean for purposes of use of paid sick leave? A “family member” includes:
  • A child (biological, adopted, foster, or stepchild, or someone to whom the employee stands in loco parentis or as a legal guardian), regardless of age;
  • A parent (biological, adoptive, de facto, foster, or stepparent; legal guardian; or parent-in-law);
  • A spouse or registered domestic partner;
  • A grandparent;
  • A grandchild; or
  • A sibling.
When may an employee begin to use leave? An employee may begin using accrued paid sick leave on the 90th calendar day after his or her employment begins.
Is there a limit to an employee’s use of leave? No. The Initiative does not include any provision permitting employers to limit an employee’s use of accrued leave.
Does leave carry over from one calendar year to the next? Yes, an employee may carry over up to 40  hours of accrued leave.
May an employer require employees to give notice of leave? Yes, an employer may require employees to give reasonable notice, so long as the requirement does not interfere with the employee’s lawful use of leave.
May an employer require verification supporting the leave? If an employee is absent for more than three days, the employer may require verification that the leave is for a covered purpose.  Verification requirements may not result in an unreasonable burden or expense to the employee or exceed privacy or verification requirements otherwise established by law.
May an employer require the employee to find coverage for a shift? No.  The employee is still entitled to take paid sick leave even if he or she does not search for or find coverage.
May an employer take action against an employee because of his or her use of paid sick leave? No.  Employers are prohibited from retaliating or discriminating against employees based on their use of paid sick leave.  Employers are also prohibited from adopting policies that count use of paid sick time as absences leading to discipline.
Must accrued paid sick leave be paid out at termination of employment? No.  Absent an employer policy to the contrary, accrued paid sick leave need not be cashed out at termination.
What happens if an employee is rehired? If an employee is rehired by the same employer within 12 months of separation, previously accrued and unused paid sick leave must be reinstated, and the employee’s prior period of employment must be counted for purposes of determining eligibility to use paid sick leave.  In other words, an employee who was previously employed for more than 90 days would be eligible to use paid sick leave immediately upon rehire.

L&I is authorized to promulgate regulations to implement and enforce these new provisions, but there is not yet any indication when those will be issued.

Covered Seattle employers must continue to comply with the Seattle Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance in 2017 and, to the extent it provides greater coverage or more benefits for employees than the state statute, in 2018 and beyond.