Seattle is cracking down harder on employers who ignore the city’s paid

Seattle is cracking down harder on employers who ignore the city’s paid sick leave law.

The city’s Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) has so far filed 38 charges against employers in 2014 to enforce the law — 7 times the number of charges in 2013, the first full year the sick time law was in effect.

“During our initial implementation of PSST, we resolved every complaint that employees brought to us, but our focus was on education and compliance,” said SOCR director Patricia Lally. “Starting in 2014, we changed our enforcement policies to get tougher on employers who continued to ignore the law.”

In 2014, employees received $37,369 in settlements, compared to $5,835 collected in 2013. In order to settle charges, employers must award their employees PSST hours for the period of noncompliance, pay employees back wages for unpaid PSST absences, and keep employees informed of their available balance of PSST hours. They must also pay civil penalties for violations of notice and posting requirements, and comply with all other parts of the law.

“In 2012, PSST was a brand new law both here in Seattle and across the country. We felt it was important to give employers the chance to align PSST with their existing business practices,” said Lally. “But PSST is the law, and we want employers to know the City of Seattle is serious about investigating violations.”

In 2013, SOCR sent out 103 advisory letters and filed 6 charges. An advisory letter notifies the employer that SOCR received a complaint and gives the business approximately 30 days to resolve the issue. So far in 2014, SOCR has sent 45 advisory letters and filed 38 charges.

On September 12, 2011, the Seattle City Council voted 8-1 for the sick leave law, making the city the third in the nation at the time, after San Francisco and Washington, D.C., to mandate paid leave for employees to care for themselves or family members when ill. The state of Connecticut also has approved mandatory paid sick leave. There are now 11 cities with similar laws, including Eugene, Ore., Newark, N.J., and San Diego.

The only “no” vote came from then-council President Richard Conlin, who objected to providing different benefits depending on the size of the business. The vote proved costly to Conlin and was a major factor in his defeat at the hands of Socialist Kshama Sawant last year.

The law exempts businesses with fewer than five employees and new businesses during their first two years of operation. Businesses with five to 49 employees must provide a minimum of five paid sick days. Companies with 50 to 249 employees must provide seven, and those with more than 250 workers must provide nine paid days off.