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Frequently Asked Questions

benefits5Our Proposal benefits3For Business Owners benefits2FAQs

Why do we need a law?

Without minimum standards, about 40% of employees get no paid leave they can use for sickness or healthcare needs. In Tacoma, that’s 40,000 people. Workers in food service or small companies, and those who work part-time or for low wages are especially unlikely to have any paid sick leave – but also can’t afford to lose a paycheck. When people have little choice but to go to work sick, that puts us all at risk of contracting disease.

The health and educational opportunity of our children is also undermined. Parents without sick leave can’t schedule regular health check-ups or stay home with their sick child. That’s the unfortunate reality for nearly 2/3 of low-income school children. Tacoma has higher percentages than the state as a whole of both school-age kids with all their parents in the workforce (72% in Tacoma compared to 69% in Washington) and kids on free or reduced lunch in the public schools (57% compared to 42%). That means kids especially will benefit from paid sick leave standards.

How much paid leave will workers earn?

The amount of leave varies by company size:

  • Fewer than 10 employees – Employees  accrue 1 hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to 40 hours (5 days) in a year (40 hour cap).
  • 10 or more employees – Employees accrue 1 hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to 72 hours (9 days) in a year (72 hour cap).
  • Over 250 employees with pooled leave (PTO) – Large employers that opt to provide sick leave as part of a flexible leave bank, such as PTO for both sick leave and vacation, must provide 1 hour for every 15 hours worked up to 108 hours (13.5 days) per year.
  • Unused leave up to the cap carries over into the next year, but employees are not entitled to use more than their capped amount in a given year, so leave does not “pile up” over time.

What can leave be used for?

  • The employee’s illness or injury, diagnosis, treatment, and preventative care.
  • Care of a family member with an illness or injury, or for diagnoses and preventative care.
  • Domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking – to seek medical attention, counseling or other services; relocate; or take legal action.
  • Public health emergency – Closure by order of a public official due to a public health emergency of the employee’s place of business, or a child’s school or place of care.

What about businesses that already offer paid leave?

Many companies already provide paid leave benefits, sometimes as PTO or general paid time off rather than specifically sick leave. As long as the company policy meets the basic standard and the leave can be used if a sudden illness strikes, policies won’t have to change. And of course, companies can provide more than the minimum, just as most pay more than minimum wage.

What about part-time or temporary workers?

Part-time workers also accrue 1 hour of paid leave for every 30 hours they work up to the cap, but their hours will accrue more slowly than for a full-time worker. For instance, someone working fulltime in a mid-size company will accrue 69 hours in a year, but someone working half time will only accrue 34 hours.

Companies can require new or temporary workers to wait 90 days before they use any accrued leave.

Will small neighborhood businesses be able to afford it?

Businesses do have direct costs from providing paid sick leave, but real-life experience shows those costs are often less than expected and offset by gains. People with sick time only use half their available days, according to national data. In San Francisco after sick leave passed, workers used on average only 1 to 3 days per year – and 25% used none. Those direct costs often are made up for by gains in productivity and customer satisfaction, and by reductions in turnover.

If most workers are using 3 or fewer days a year, why provide 5 to 13?

Life doesn’t happen in averages. According to the CDC, the flu is contagious for 6 to 8 days. Norovirus, which is often transmitted by sick workers handling food, can be contagious for up to 2 weeks – long after the vomiting and diarrhea have cleared up. Schools and daycares insist that children with fevers and other symptoms stay home.

Do companies based outside of Tacoma have to provide paid leave if they send employees to work inside the city?

Yes – if their employee works in the city more than 80 hours in a year. Everyone who works in Tacoma is covered during the time the are inside city limits, except for those only in the city short term or very occasionally, for instance for a convention or a few meetings. But people who work in the city with some regularity – for instance, making deliveries to grocery stores and restaurants, repairing furnaces, or installing roofs on homes – would accrue sick leave for their hours worked in Tacoma, even if they are dispatched from an outside location. Some companies in other localities have found it simplest to either provide all their workers with sick leave, whether required to or not, or to “front load” several days of leave for those employees frequently dispatched into the city.

How will it be enforced?

The Tacoma Human Rights and Human Services Department will enforce the law by responding to and investigating complaints. The experience of other cities with similar laws has been that most complaints are easily settled once employers fully understand the law, without fines or formal hearings.

Do other cities and states have similar laws? Shouldn’t we have a national standard?

On the West Coast, Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco have passed similar laws. New York City, Washington, DC, and Connecticut also have adopted minimum paid leave standards. Congress may act on a national standard once additional cities and states have passed Paid Sick Days laws – just as Congress has waited for a number of states to raise their own minimum wages before raising the federal minimum wage level.

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