By Lauren Burgon
Effective February 1, 2016, nearly every employee working even occasionally in Tacoma is entitled to paid sick/safe leave under a new Tacoma law. This applies to private sector employees regardless of where their employer is located or the size of their employer’s business. While the Tacoma law is patterned after Seattle’s paid leave law and is similar in many ways, there are some significant differences between the two ordinances.
Similar to Seattle, the Tacoma law does not impose additional paid leave requirements on employers who are already offering paid leave at levels at least as high as the Tacoma law minimums. Neither city requires employers to cash out unused leave at the end of employment. Both cities require employers to notify employees of their used/unused leave each pay period, and both cities require that employees be permitted to use their paid leave for a broad range of needs involving employees’ own health or safety or the medical and safety needs of the employees’ family members, with “family member” quite broadly defined.
However, the new Tacoma law applies to every private sector employee who works in Tacoma more than 80 hours in a year, which is significantly lower than the 240 hour minimum in Seattle. In addition, Tacoma requires that every employee be permitted to accrue at least one hour of paid leave for every forty hours worked regardless of the size of the employer, while Seattle’s accrual rates are tiered according to employer size. Employees in Tacoma are entitled to accrue up to 24 hours of paid leave annually, while the Seattle law has a higher accrual minimum of 40 hours per year. Tacoma employers must allow employees to use at least 24 hours of accrued leave in the first year (rising to 40 hours in years where an employee has carried accrued leave forward from the previous year,) and must allow their employees to carry forward at least 24 hours of unused accrued leave into the next year. In contrast, Seattle employers are required to permit use of at least 40 hours of accrued leave every year, and must permit carry forward of at least 40 hours of unused accrued leave. Also, while Seattle employers must use the calendar year when calculating sick leave accruals and carry forwards, Tacoma employers can choose to use the calendar year, the employer’s fiscal year, or the twelve month period from each employee’s employment anniversary.
If your business has employees who work in Tacoma, even only a couple of hours each week, the Tacoma sick leave law applies to those employees, and we encourage you to make it a priority to review the requirements of the Tacoma law to ensure your business is in compliance. Equinox would be happy to review your current policy for compliance with Tacoma’s new law, and we also suggest that you consider performing an overall review of your employment policies if it’s been a while since you last looked at them.