Proposed City of Olympia Minimum Wage Ordinance: Part 4—Paid Sick Leave

Oct 29, 2015

The final provision examined in this five part series dissecting the complex provisions of the proposed “City of Olympia Minimum Wage Ordinance,” mandates paid sick leave for all workers in the city.  Introduced by City Councilmember Jim Cooper, the Olympia proposal is alarmingly broad and open-ended.

Like the paid leave laws in other cities, the proposed version in Olympia would cover sick leave absences due to illness or injury of the worker or any family member, as well as safe leave absences related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking of the worker or family member. 

But the Olympia version is alarmingly broad and open-ended, going much further than the paid sick leave mandates in nearby Tacoma and Seattle.

  • There are no exemptions or tiers based on employer size.  A business employing two workers would provide the same amount of sick time as businesses with 500 workers.
  • Any “occasional” worker who clocks more than two hours of work in a two-week period in the city would accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.  Clearly such a low threshold means the law will cover a lot of people who work occasionally in the city of Olympia—a worker attending a single training session or making a single residential call in Olympia would do it.
  • Paid sick leave time earned by a worker could be used as soon as it is accrued (there is no “vesting” period for new hires.)
  • No limit is placed on how much sick leave could be accrued.
  • No limit is placed on how much sick leave could be used in a year.
  • Up to 56 hours of unused paid leave could be carried over to the following year. 
  • No written documentation from a doctor is required for using any paid leave time, regardless of length.

Let’s examine a possible real-world situation a small business owner in Olympia could face.  An employee working 40 hours per week every week of the year could earn 52 hours of paid sick leave that year (if that employee worked more than 40 hours as a result of over-time, he or she would accrue even more paid leave hours, with no cap).  If that employee banked all of their paid sick leave for that year, they could carry all 52 hours over to the following year, during which they could earn and bank another 52 hours of paid leave time.  At that point, the worker would be allowed to use all 108 hours (nearly three weeks) at once, if they chose.  The worker would not need to provide their employer with any proof from a doctor that they are really ill.  Meanwhile, the small business owner is on the hook for paying the wages of the worker’s 108 sick leave hours, while simultaneously paying the wages of another worker to fill in for the worker on leave.  The hardship this would create for small business owners would be significant.

In comparison, all employers in Tacoma must provide paid sick leave, but workers in that city must work at least 80 hours per year to qualify, are capped at earning 24 hours of paid sick leave per year, may carry-over only 24 hours and are limited to using 40 hours per year.  And workers in Tacoma must work 180 days before they can use paid sick leave hours. 

Seattle exempts small businesses with fewer than five employees from that city’s paid sick leave law entirely; workers at companies with five or more employees accrue paid sick leave based on the size of their employer (Seattle classifies three tiers of employer sizes).  What is more, all new companies with fewer than 250 employees are exempt from the paid leave requirement until 24 months after the hire date of their first employee.

In Seattle, only businesses that fall into the Second Tier (those with more than 50 workers) must provide paid leave hours at the same rate as proposed for all businesses in Olympia.  But unlike the Olympia proposal, workers in those businesses may only use 56 paid leave hours per year, and any sick leave in excess of three consecutive days requires documentation from a doctor.  And employees must work 180 days before they can use paid sick leave hours.  “Occasional” workers must clock 240 hours before they are considered eligible to earn paid sick leave.

Clearly, the Olympia proposal goes much further than the paid sick leave laws in Tacoma and Seattle.  The broad requirements would weigh heaviest on the small, Main Street employers that are the backbone of Olympia's community and economy.  Around 80% of businesses in Olympia employ fewer than 10 workers; this proposed ordinance would make it more difficult for these small employers to grow their business in the quest to become part of the 20% who employ a bigger workforce. 

You can read about other provisions of the ordinance in Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 5 of this series. Part 1 details the “$15 Minimum Wage” provision, Part 2 covers the “Promoting Full Time Employment” provision, Part 3 explains the “Adequate Rest Between Shifts,” “Advanced Notice of Work Schedules” and “Advance Notice of Change in Work Schedules” provisions, and Part 5 explores the  “Enforcement” provisions of the new laws.