Paid Sick Leave Gains Momentum as Seattle Becomes Latest City to Adopt

In July, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to require certain businesses to offer paid sick leave to their employees.  At the time, only Washington, D.C. and San Francisco had such laws.  Earlier this week, the Seattle City Council approved similar legislation, sending it to Mayor Mike McGinn for his approval, which is expected. 

The council voted 8-1 to require that all but the smallest companies (those with fewer than five employees) provide at least five paid days off a year to employees who are sick, need to take care of a sick family member, or who are victims of domestic abuse and need to take time off to assist law enforcement or attend court hearings. 

The Economic Opportunity Institute estimates approximately 200,000 workers in Seattle currently have no paid sick days.  Nationwide, more than 44 million private-sector workers (42 percent) lack paid sick days, according to a March 2011 report by the Institute for Women's Policy Research

Councilmember Nick Licata, sponsor of the measure, said that "it's wrong that someone has to choose between going to work sick or losing pay."   He also argued that paid sick leave laws increase workers’ productivity, reduce turnover and protect public health.

Opponents argued that it was a bad idea to enact new requirements on businesses while the economy continues to struggle.  

The bill sets out the following requirements:

  • Businesses with the equivalent of 5 to 49 full-time employees must provide at least 5 days of paid sick leave per year, accruing at the rate of one hour per every 40 hours worked.
  • Businesses with 50 to 249 employees must provide at least 7 days per year, accruing at one hour per every 40 hours worked.
  • Businesses with 250 or more employees must provide at least 9 days per year, accruing at one hour per every 30 hours worked. 

Businesses less than two years old would be exempt, and there is a six-month waiting period before workers can start using their accrued paid sick leave.  The legislation would take effect September 2012. 

Passage of the bill in Seattle may provide momentum to other similar efforts.  Denver voters will decide the issue via a ballot initiative this November, and proponents are pushing for paid sick leave in New York City and Massachusetts.  Milwaukee voters approved a sick-leave bill in 2008 that was later overturned by the state Legislature (SB 23), and earlier this year Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter vetoed a bill passed by the city council.