July 31, 2012

Seattle Employers: Act Now To Comply With Seattle Paid Sick Leave Requirements

As of September 1, 2012, the majority of Seattle employers will be required to provide paid sick leave to Seattle-based employees. Seattle-based employers, as well as non-Seattle employers with employees who routinely work in Seattle, should review existing paid leave plans now to ensure compliance with the new requirements.

Employers can use the information below to begin reviewing their existing leave plans for compliance. Employers may also review the City of Seattle’s information page, text of the ordinance, regulations, FAQs, and related information.


Which Seattle-based employers are covered by the new ordinance? The new ordinance covers employers with five or more full-time equivalent employees. Employees working outside Seattle must be counted, so businesses or non-profits with two Seattle employees and four employees in Shoreline would be covered. While the ordinance covers City of Seattle employees, it does not cover federal, state, and other local government employees.

What about coverage for non-Seattle employers who have employees regularly working in Seattle? Are those employees entitled to paid sick leave? Yes, employees who work in Seattle at least 240 hours in a calendar year must accrue sick leave. Examples may include employees who cover shifts at multiple employer locations (including shifts at Seattle-based facilities), or who make deliveries or route-based stops in the city limits. This may also include employees who regularly telecommute from their Seattle residences.

Can employees waive coverage? No, individual employees may not waive coverage. Union employees may waive coverage, but only through collective bargaining agreements with clear and unambiguous terms.

Waiting Period

My business has a leave policy that limits an employee’s right to take paid leave during the initial months employment. Are waiting periods permitted under the ordinance? Yes. Leave must begin to accrue from the date of hire, but employers may require employees to wait up to 180 days after hire to take the paid leave.

Leave Requirements

How much paid leave must my business provide? The amount of leave depends on the number of full-time equivalent employees:

  • Tier One:  5-49 FTE employees.  Employees accrue at least one hour of paid leave time for each 40 hours worked. Employees may use 40 hours per year and carry over up to 40 hours of unused time per calendar year.
  • Tier Two: 50-249 FTE employees. Employees accrue at least one hour of paid leave time for each 40 hours worked. Employees may use 56 hours per year and carry over up to 56 hours of unused time per calendar year.
  • Tier Three: 250 or more FTE employees.  Employees accrue at least one hour of paid leave time for each 30 hours worked. Employees may use 72 hours per year and carry over up to 72 hours of unused time per calendar year.

Can employers continue to offer PTO? Employers may provide paid time off (PTO), alternate methods of accrual, or more generous benefits than the ordinance, so long as the minimum number of hours are available for paid sick/safe time. Tier Three employers with PTO policies must provide at least 108 hours of paid leave use per year, and must allow up to 108 hours of unused paid leave to carry over into the next year.

How is accrued leave calculated? Exempt employees may accrue up to 40 hours per week based on their regularly weekly schedule. Non-exempt hourly employees accrue leave time on hours actually worked.

Are employers required to carry over leave from year to year? Yes. Accrued leave up to the cap carries over into the next year, but employees cannot use more leave in a year than their capped amount.

Must accrued leave be paid upon termination? Leave payouts are not required by the ordinance, but employers should review their existing policies to determine if they provide for payment of accrued leave upon termination.

Permitted Uses of Leave

What types of leave are covered by the ordinance? Under the ordinance, paid leave may be used when an employee must be absent from work for any of the following reasons:

  • Due to the employee’s own illness, injury, diagnosis, treatment or preventative care;
  • For the health needs of employee’s child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, parent-in-law or grandparent;
  • To cope with the consequences of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking that may affect the employee or a family member;
  • If the employee’s place of business, or employee’s child’s school or place of care, is closed for a public health emergency.

How do employees notify the employer they wish to use paid sick/safe time? Employees must provide at least 10 days’ advance notice of foreseeable leave requests. Employers may establish notice policies. Employers may require documentation for absences longer than three consecutive days (although employers must split the cost of obtaining any such documentation if the employer does not offer health insurance).

Recordkeeping Requirements

Do employers need to keep special records related to sick/safe time requirements? No, although employers should review their current recordkeeping practices to make sure that they accurately track hours worked in Seattle, accrued sick/safe leave, and sick/safe leave taken.

Do employers need to change payroll practices? Yes. Employers must notify employees of available sick/safe time balances each time wages are paid.

Notice and Posting Requirements

Do employers have to notify employees of their rights under this ordinance? Yes. Employers are required to give employees notice of their entitlement of paid sick/safe time, in either physical or electronic form. Notice posters are available for download.

In addition to our August 8, 2012 seminar, we will continue to provide information and analysis of the ordinance in future blog posts. If you have questions about the impact of the ordinance on your organization, please contact the Foster Pepper Employment & Labor group.

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