Complexity for Employers in New Washington State Sick Leave Law

Posted on February 15, 2018 by Andrew Goodrich

Beginning on January 1, 2018, all employers in the State of Washington are required to provide paid sick leave to certain employees. This new law implements Initiative 1433, passed by Washington voters in 2016. While employers may be compliant in theory, the new law and regulations include a number of requirements and obligations that employers need to know to avoid potential liability.

Generally speaking, the law, which only applies to non-exempt employees, requires that employers provide employees with 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked (including any overtime hours worked). Employees may use the paid sick leave for a variety of defined purposes related to their own mental or physical well-being, as well as that of their family members. They must also be permitted to carry-over at least 40 hours of accrued paid sick leave from year to year (an employer can permit additional carry-over if they wish).

While employers may already meet these general requirements in practice under their current sick leave or paid time off (PTO) policies, the devil is in the implementation details. Some of the more important details include:

  • Employers must notify each current and new employee of their entitlement to paid sick leave, along with additional information about such accrual.
  • Employers must keep accurate records of employees’ paid sick leave accruals each month, and the paid sick leave used and available for use, and must provide that information to each employee no less than monthly.
  • There are limitations on the notice that may be required from employees to use paid sick leave, as well as what information can be requested by employers to verify employee absences exceeding three days.
  • Employees can use paid sick beginning on the 90th calendar day after the commencement of employment, and they must be permitted to use paid sick leave in the same increments in which time is recorded by the employer. For example, an employer who tracks employees’ time in 15 minute increments must allow an employee to utilize paid sick leave in the same increment.
  • Retaliation for the employee’s lawful use of paid sick leave—and all related regulations—is prohibited by law.

These are not the only regulations related to the new sick leave law. Moreover, implementation becomes even more complex for employers who use general PTO policies which combine vacation and sick leave. It’s important when crafting a PTO policy that the employer ensure that these implementing regulations are available for any accrued paid sick leave, but at the same time do not apply to general PTO. For instance, employers who have a busy time of year during which PTO use is restricted will need to ensure that they still have the ability to restrict PTO during those busy times, while at the same time permit employees to use paid sick leave at any time of the year.

A link to the specific implementing regulations can be found here. Please contact the Employment Law group at Lasher Holzapfel Sperry & Ebberson for any questions, including assistance with implementing or modifying your PTO/sick leave policies and employee handbooks.