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Sick leave legislation passes in Seattle

Despite opposition from the restaurant industry, Seattle on Monday joined San Francisco and Washington, D.C., as cities that will require businesses to offer paid leave to employees when they or their family members are sick.

The 8-to-1 vote in support of the legislation by the Seattle City Council on Monday marked a victory for sick leave supporters, who say such mandates are catching on across the country.

In Connecticut, a state mandate is scheduled to take effect in January, and similar legislation has been proposed in Massachusetts and California. Paid sick leave is also scheduled to be put before voters in Denver this fall.

In Seattle, Council Bill 117216 establishes minimum standards for paid sick leave — as well as “safe time” off for victims of domestic violence — based on company size.

Effective Sept. 1, 2012, companies with between five and 49 full-time workers must allow employees to accrue a minimum of one hour of paid leave and safe time for every 40 hours worked to at least five days in a year. Those with 50 to 249 employees will be required to provide at least seven days off, accrued at a rate of one hour per 40 hours worked.

Companies with 250 or more employees must provide at least nine days, accrued at one hour for every 30 hours worked.

Workers can only begin accruing sick time after six months on the job.

Startups in their first two years of operation and businesses with four or fewer workers are exempt.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is expected to sign the bill. In a statement Monday, he said, “Paid sick leave levels the playing field in Seattle by supporting public health and economic justice. Seattle residents shouldn’t have to choose between staying home sick and keeping their job.”

The Washington Restaurant Association was among a group of business partners who said they supported the notion of workers being allowed time off when they’re sick, but opposed the Seattle measure as adopted.

Josh McDonald, who works with state and local government affairs at the Seattle Restaurant Alliance, said, “Businesses throughout the city tried to work with proponents and council members to draft language we could make workable in restaurants. Unfortunately, much of what we put on the table was rejected.”

As restaurants continue to struggle against economic headwinds, he added, “this ordinance could make it even harder on them. We just don’t know.”

McDonald said the group was concerned in particular with the tiered nature of compliance, with smaller businesses required to provide less leave than larger operations.

“If this is really about public health, why are we giving more leave to some workers, and less to others?” McDonald said. “Why not have all businesses required to provide the same number of sick days to their employees?”

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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