Tacoma Considers Paid Sick Leave Ordinance

Barran Liebman
Oregon Law Firm

Following in the footsteps of Portland and Seattle among other places, advocates in Tacoma, Washington are moving forward with plans to implement a paid sick leave ordinance. The organization Healthy Tacoma is spearheading the effort and claims to have the support of at least four of the nine-member city council. Councilman Anders Ibsen has indicated that he will introduce the proposal this year.

Under the terms of the proposed ordinance, the accrual rate of paid sick time would vary depending on the size of the employer.

• Small employers: Employees in companies with fewer than 10 employees would be entitled to accrue 1 hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, but may use no more than 40 hours in a calendar year or alternative 12 month period as set by the employer.
• Medium employers: Employees in companies with 10 to 250 employees would be entitled to accrue 1 hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, but may use no more than 72 hours in a year.
• Large employers: Employers with over 250 employees that opt to provide sick leave as part of a flexible leave bank, such as Paid Time Off for both sick leave and vacation, would be required to provide 1 hour for every 15 hours worked up to 108 hours.
For each category of employer, employees would be entitled to carry over unused leave into the following year, but would not be entitled to use more than their capped amount in a given year. The ordinance would not prevent employers from offering more generous sick leave policies.

The ordinance provides for use of paid sick time:

• For the employee’s own illness or injury, diagnosis, treatment and preventative care;
• To care for a sick family member;
• For victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse or stalking, to seek medical attention, counseling or other services; or to relocate or take legal action;
• In the event a public health emergency closes the employee’s place of business or the employee’s child’s school or place of care.

If the employee misses more than 3 consecutive days, the employer may require documentation of the employee’s condition. However, if the employee does not have health insurance, the employer would be obligated to cover the expense incurred in obtaining the required documentation from a health care provider.

The proposal has a few provisions designed to ameliorate the potential hardship on employers. Under its terms, employers are not required to cash out employees’ unused sick time. Additionally, they may require a 90-day waiting period before employees would be able to use paid sick time; and new small business owners would have a 1-year grace period to implement a sick time policy. The ordinance would apply to unionized work places unless the terms of the ordinance are expressly waived in a collective bargaining agreement.

When the ordinance would be voted on or go into effect is still unknown. Employers wishing to weigh in on the proposed ordinance should contact the city council. In the meantime, Tacoma area employers should start planning to implement policies consistent with the proposed ordinance.

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