Washingtonians who’ve worked full time since January 1 have earned a full day of sick leave, something previously unavailable to too many residents outside of Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane.
In 2016, voters approved Initiative 1433, increasing the minimum wage and setting a statewide minimum standard of one hour of paid sick leave for every forty hours worked. The initiative allowed employers a year to set up sick leave policies to take effect this year.
Access to sick leave means people can stay home when their noses are dripping, take care of their feverish toddlers, or take their moms to chemotherapy. They can go to the emergency room for an appendectomy, to a Veterans Affairs office to be fitted for a prosthetic leg, or to the dentist. They can care for their sick grandmothers, fathers-in-law, stepchildren, or other close family members.
Washington joins eight other states and about forty cities that have passed paid sick day laws. In areas without these legal standards, about 40 percent of workers are denied any sick leave by their employers. Workers in restaurants, retail, construction and even health care have been the least likely to have access to sick days, putting not only their own health at risk, but customers and coworkers as well.
Washington’s new law provides additional protection to many people who already had some employer-provided paid leave. Employers may no longer penalize workers for taking a sick day through attendance policies that pushed people to come to work sick.
Paid time off can also be used as “safe leave.” Survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking can use their leave to seek a protection order or move into a shelter.
Washington’s new legal protections cover most people, excluding some professionals and management executives. Part-time workers also earn at least one hour of paid leave for every forty hours they work – they’ll just accrue leave more slowly. And people who work overtime will continue to accrue leave for those hours. Everyone is entitled to carry forward at least 40 hours of unused accrued leave into the following year and continue earning more leave.
Washington’s three largest cities – Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane – have had sick leave standards in place for years and continue to thrive. Healthy workers who aren’t distracted by family emergencies are more dependable and keep customers and coworkers happier and healthier, helping boost the bottom line.
Across Washington State, the workers serving our salad, stocking our groceries, or checking our blood pressure have a little paid sick leave in their bank. Hopefully, if they’re sick, they’re at home, and not spreading their germs to us. Our new paid sick leave law protects us all.