City to tweak paid leave law following state rules

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The Tacoma City Council is primed to change the city’s paid sick leave law to align with new state laws on the issue.

Discussions about the changes were set for the Aug. 15 agenda for first reading but was pulled at the last minute after the council had questions that staff needed time to answer fully. The issue has not been rescheduled.

The changes are needed since voters in the state passed Initiative 1433 last fall that increased the state minimum wage and added rules for paid sick leave. Tacoma’s local minimum wage will not be impacted until at least 2019; however, amendments to Tacoma Municipal Code are now needed to align the city code with the state’s new paid sick leave law, which goes into effect Jan. 1.

The city adopted its paid leave rules in early 2015. The rules required all workplaces in the city to provide 24 hours of paid leave each year for full and part-time employees to use in cases of their own health or to tend to the health of a member of their family as well as school closures. The paid leave can be earned at a rate of one hour for every 40 hours worked and can be carried over to the following year if not used.

The statewide initiative enacted a similar rule around Washington. It, however, will allow workers to carry over 40 hours of sick leave and contains other changes about how the rules will be enforced that the city must now address with changes to its municipal code.

Tacoma, for example, uses workplace-wide investigations when a complaint is received, while the state’s department of Labor and Industries conducts individual investigations that only seek information on what is owed the individual worker who filed a paid-leave complaint rather than an investigation of the entire workplace for violations.

“Individual investigations do not allow confidentiality for witnesses,” according to a staff report on the issue. “The cost for an employer to remain in non-compliance is usually less expensive than the cost of following the law under this model. Data from actual cases demonstrate that the city’s workplace-wide model of enforcement returned 36 times the amount of wages/paid sick leave hours that would have been collected by the state if they had a similar caseload. Workplace-wide enforcement also resulted in remedies being provided to 30 times as many workers during the period analyzed.”

In general, the state law is more generous to workers because there is no cap on the number of hours that can be accrued or used. But the city’s paid leave law covers exempt workers such as executives, administrators, or outside sales people, while the state rules do not. The state law also doesn’t list the death of a family member as a use of paid time off, while Tacoma’s does. The city’s rules also allow for paid leave to cover school closures, while the state does not.

Information about the rules can be found at cityoftacoma.org/paidleave.

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