Island business owners learn about paid sick leave

Nearly every Washington employee is eligible for paid sick leave as of the beginning of this year.

Initiative 1433 requires Washington state employers to provide sick leave accrual to most employees. Ten island business owners and employees gathered for an introduction to the initiative hosted by the Orcas Island Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, April 24.

“It really covers all employees. Whether they’re seasonal, part-time, temporary, full-time, you hire them one day a month, if they’re covered under the minimum wage law, then they are eligible for this paid sick leave law,” said Eva Coblentz, paid sick leave outreach specialist for the Washington Department of Labor and Industry. “If they have the time, they have the right to use it.”

During the general election of November 2016, 57.42 percent of voters approved the initiative that mandates paid sick leave, gradually increases the minimum wage, secures tips and service charges as an addition to minimum wage and protects employees from retaliation for exercising their rights under the initiative.

Some employees may not be required to receive paid sick leave because their job duties make them exempt from the Minimum Wage Act. There are 16 exemptions to the initiative. To read the RCW, go to http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=49.46.010.

Employees accrue sick time at a rate of one hour for every 40 hours worked. In a year, a full-time employee earns 52 hours of paid sick leave, assuming they don’t work overtime. The initiative requires that should the employee not use all of their sick time, up to 40 hours must carry over to the next year. Employers may choose to be more generous with their paid leave policies and those guidelines should be outlined in an employee handbook.

The state’s suggested justifiable reasons for using paid sick leave include: mental or physical illness, physical injury, a health condition, for a medical diagnosis or preventative medical care; if a family member (child, parent, spouse, registered domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild or sibling) needs caregiving; if your work or your child’s school or place of care is closed for any health reason by order of a public health official; or if you are absent for reasons that qualify for leave under the state’s Domestic Violence Leave Act. Wanting time off for weather, bereavement or jury duty are not covered by paid sick leave.

Employers were required to inform their employees of the initiative and the accrual by March 1.

The employer must pay the employee their normal hourly compensation or minimum wage, whichever is higher, and new employees are eligible to use sick paid leave 90 days after their employment begins.

An incremental minimum wage was included in the initiative, raising it to $11 in 2017; $11.50 in 2018; $12 in 2019; $13.50 in 2020; and then continuing to increase on an annual basis in accordance to inflation rates thereafter. Also in the initiative was a requirement that Washington employers pay tipped and service charged (an involuntary additional payment by the customer, such as an auto-gratuity) employees at least minimum wage plus their tip or charge.

For more information on the state’s paid sick leave act, visit https://www.lni.wa.gov/WorkplaceRights/LeaveBenefits/VacaySick/PaidSickLeave.asp.