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The Mandatory Paid Sick Leave Requirement Starts in January
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This article is intended to inform the reader of general legal principles applicable to the subject area. It is not intended to provide legal advice regarding specific problems or circumstances. Readers should consult with competent counsel with regard to specific situations.

BY AMY ROBINSON

This article originally appeared in the October 13, 2017 edition of the Vancouver Business Journal.

Washington’s Paid Sick Leave law is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2018.  Unfortunately, the proposed administrative rules that are intended to clarify some of the finer points of how the law will be interpreted and enforced, including the potential penalties, have not yet been finalized and may not be ready until mid-December.  We hope to follow up with additional information once they have been finalized, but we wanted to provide you with this brief overview now to help you prepare to be in compliance by the New Year. 
 
Here is a quick snapshot of what we know about this new law so far:
  • Employers will have to provide all employees with at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours of work. 
  • Paid sick leave must start accruing immediately on January 1, 2018, or immediately upon hire thereafter.  For new hires, the employer may prohibit the use of leave until the 90th calendar day of employment.  
  • Employees must be permitted to carry over up to 40 hours of accrued but unused paid leave into the following year. 
  • Accrued but unused mandatory sick leave is not required to be cashed out at termination.  However, if the employee is rehired within 12 months, the amount that was available at the time of separation must be re-credited.
  • Approval may not be conditioned on the employee finding a replacement or shift swapping to make up for time missed. 
  • Verification of the need for leave cannot be required unless the absence exceeds 3 days, and the verification must not pose an unreasonable burden or expense on the employee.
  • Employees must be provided with written notice of the amount of accrued and unused sick leave available at least quarterly.
  • As with most other workplace laws, there are anti-retaliation provisions as well as a workplace posting requirement with civil penalties for violation of the posting requirement.
 
The law does not require employers who already provide as much or more leave under a sick leave or paid time off (PTO) policy to provide additional leave time, provided that the policy complies with the minimum requirements of the law.
 
The covered uses of paid sick leave are defined more broadly than just an employee’s own personal illness, and will include time for:
  • An absence resulting from an employee’s mental or physical illness, injury or health condition and time off needed for diagnosis, care or treatment, including preventative medical care.  
  • To allow employees to provide care for a family member with a mental or physical illness, injury or health condition, or who needs diagnosis, care or treatment including preventative medical care.  Note also that the law also includes a broad definition of “family member” which  includes:
    • A child, including a biological, adopted or foster child, stepchild or a child to whom the employee stands in loco parentis, is a legal guardian or is a de facto parent, regardless of age or dependency status;
    • A biological, adoptive, de facto, or foster parent, stepparent, or legal guardian of an employee of the employee’s spouse or registered domestic partner, or a person who stood in loco parentis when the employee was a minor child;
    • A spouse
    • A registered domestic partner
    • A grandparent;
    • A grandchild; or
    • A sibling.
  • The closure of the workplace due by a public health official for any health-related reason or when an employee’s child’s school or place of care has been closed for such a reason.  Absences protected and defined by Washington’s Domestic Violence Leave law. 
 
Again, this law will take effect on January 1, 2018, so be prepared to comply by taking these steps now:
  • Review your current handbooks and/or sick leave policies to spot any that may need to be updated by January, and be ready to roll out updated versions/new policies once the final rules become available.
  • Make sure to update your 2018 workplace postings with the required paid sick leave notice.
  • Make sure you are prepared for providing regular notice of sick leave accruals to employees once the law is in effect.  For most employers, this is accomplished by including the information on the employees’ paystubs.   
  • Educate those involved in attendance management so that they are familiar with the requirements of the law and prepared to facilitate compliance. Depending on your organizational structure, this may include first-level supervisors as well as personnel/HR representatives and upper management.
 
Again, we hope to follow up with additional information once the rules are finalized with additional clarification on this new requirement for Washington employers. 
 
This is a general discussion of the new law with rules that are still being developed and is not intended to substitute for legal advice for specific circumstances. Some or all of the information is subject to change as the responsible agency continues to enact enforcement guidance and fine-tune rules, obligations, and resources. If you have a specific question about any of the requirements included in this article or any individual compliance requirements applicable to your business, please consult your legal counsel.
Amy Robinson is a shareholder at Jordan Ramis PC, practicing in the Employment Practice Group. Contact Amy at (360) 567-3900.