5 Key Things to Know About Washington’s Sick Leave Law

1. Washington law – the basics.

In November of 2016, voters in Washington state voted to establish a mandatory sick leave law for workers in their state. Starting in January of 2018, all employees covered under the Washington State Minimum Wage law must accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.

This law applies to all employers even if they only have one employee. The problem is that many large cities in Washington such as Seattle and Tacoma have also adopted their own sick leave measures, and these measures are not always in sync with the state law.

What is the employer to do? We will attempt to highlight some of the difference between state law and those of the municipalities. Note we are using Washington state as the example here; the same scenarios are playing out in other states around the nation.

2. Allowable uses of sick leave.

According to the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries, employees will be allowed to use sick leave for themselves, or a family member, for these reasons:

  • To care for themselves or family members.
  • When the employees’ workplace or their child’s school (or place of care) has been closed by a public official for health-related reasons.
  • Absences that qualify under the Domestic Violence Leave Act.

Note that employers may allow employees to use paid sick leave for additional purposes.

Unlike the laws adopted in Tacoma and Spokane, the Washington state regulation does not cover bereavement due to the death of family members.

3. Family member definition.

Washington allows the usage of paid sick leave for personal illness or injury as well as for family members defined below:

  • Child
  • Parent
  • Spouse
  • Grandparent
  • Grandchild
  • Sibling
  • Registered domestic partner

The big difference here is that Washington state allows that the child relationship is enforced regardless of the age of the child, while the city regulations only covers children up to the age of 18.

4. Accrual of sick time.

In general, employees must earn a minimum of one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. This covers all non-exempt employees covered by the Washington State Minimum Wage Law. There is currently no coverage for exempt workers including white collar workers, outside sales people or other professionals.

In many of the local regulations white collar workers are covered with the assumption of a flat 40 hour work week. Seattle law, as an example, covers all workers that work in the city of Seattle. While the new state law applies to all employers with even one employee, local laws can be applied differently depending on the size of the company. There is currently no cap on the number of hours earned each year by an employee. There is a cap on the number of hours that can carry over into the next year.