Washington Initiative 1433: What it Means for State Employers

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November’s election told us more than who will be our president for the next four years; it also changed Washington State’s minimum wage law and added paid sick leave for employees statewide. Washington state voters approved Initiative 1433 which amends the state’s existing minimum wage law (RCW 49.46) to set minimum wage at $11.00 for ALL Washington employees subject to the state’s minimum wage statute beginning January 1, 2017. After that, employees will experience a 50¢ raise in minimum wage each year until 2020, when there will be a sizable bump to $13.50 and a subsequent annual adjustment for inflation.

While employers operating under minimum wage ordinances in Seattle, SeaTac, and Tacoma continue to have higher minimum wage rates than the new state wage floor, they must also be mindful of Initiative 1433 because its new paid sick leave requirements affect ALL employers — even if the employers already comply with local sick and safe leave ordinances. As of January 1, 2018, all employers must provide their employees with 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. The new law forbids employers from requiring employees to find coverage when they need to use protected sick leave.  The new law also forbids employers from adopting or enforcing a policy that counts the use of protected sick leave as an absence that may lead to discipline.

Due to open-ended drafting there are some notable differences between the state law and local ordinances, and employees must receive the greater protections afforded under the laws as a whole. This puts the burden on employers to look at both local and state law when determining accrual rate, carryover, use, and eligibility. Here are some examples of where Seattle’s Sick and Safe Time Ordinance has greater protections than the new state law:

  • Exempt employees accrue paid sick time for the first 40 hours worked each week (under state law, some exempt individuals do not accrue any paid sick leave);
  • Employers with 50-249 full time employees must allow employees to carryover 56 hours of unused, accrued sick time year-to-year (under state law, employers are only required to allow 40 hours of carryover); and
  • Employees who work for employers with 250 or more employees accrue 1 hour for every 30 hours worked (under state law, employees only accrue 1 hour for every 40 hours worked).

However, employers are cautioned against applying simply the Seattle law because there are some protections under state law that are more favorable to employees, including but not limited to:

  • There is no limit to the number of hours of sick leave that an employee can use each year (in Seattle, there is a limit on use in any given year depending on employer size); and
  • An employee can use accrued sick leave 90 days from the first date of employment (in Seattle, an employee can use accrued leave after 180 days).

The silver lining for employers is that the sick leave law does not become effective until January 1, 2018. Employers are encouraged to use this time to not only figure out the business side of providing paid sick leave (including how to track accrual and to provide employees with regular notifications of available paid sick leave, as required) but also to work with their legal counsel to revise handbooks and company policies in a way that is compliant with the new state law.

This post was co-authored by Emma Kazaryan

About the Authors

Lauren Parris Watts

Lauren Parris Watts’ practice focuses on representing and advising individual clients and small to medium-sized business clients in risk management, contractual matters, employment and general tort litigation. She counsels clients on a variety of issues, including compensation and severance agreements, non-competition and non-solicitation restrictions, disability accommodations, FMLA and other leave rights and misconduct investigations. She also represents her clients in lawsuits alleging wrongful termination, sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination.

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Emma Kazaryan

Emma is an associate in the firm's litigation and employment practice groups.

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