Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

City of Seattle leaders to hear first report on paid sick days ordinance

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Photo: SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget via Flickr

The results from a baseline evaluation of Seattle’s paid sick and safe time law show exactly why paid sick leave standards are needed to protect public health: Absent laws requiring employers to provide sick leave, it is one of the least likely benefits to be offered in the private sector – and part-time workers are rarely covered.

University of Washington researchers surveyed employers about the leave policies and practices they had in place before Seattle’s paid sick and same time ordinance went into effect – and they’ll present their findings to the Seattle City Council today at 3:10 p.m.

The researchers found that over a quarter (27%) of companies now covered by Seattle’s law offered no sick leave or PTO to full-time workers, and 65% provided none to part timers. Not only did many employers not provide paid sick leave, but people came to work sick even when they have paid leave. 44% of employers with sick leave reported that sometimes people still show up to work sick.

The report also shows how important comprehensive coverage is in sick leave standards. The Seattle survey found that over half of covered employers have fewer than 20 employees, and employment is across all sectors. In other states and cities, paid sick days laws exclude broad swaths of workforce, such as companies with fewer than 20 – or even 50 – employees.

Other laws exclude whole sectors of the economy. Such exclusions have significant negative impacts on public health, family economic security, and community vitality. Children’s health and their ability to succeed in school is also significantly affected by the parents’ access to sick leave to deal with their children’s health needs. So we can be proud of Seattle’s ordinance – both for the number of people it covers, and for the forward-looking local business owners who helped craft and pass it.

Finally, the UW report shows that continued public outreach is important for the law’s success. City officials have done a good job so far given limited resources, holding workshops for small business owners throughout the city and providing individual technical assistance. In fact, the City of Seattle did far more outreach than other localities have with similar laws. The fact that 60-70% of small and mid-sized firms knew about the ordinance on the eve of it going into effect is encouraging – but obviously more needs to be done.

Policy change, like Seattle’s ordinance, is one part of what’s needed to bring about a cultural shift that supports healthy workplaces and families. Changes in thinking and practice about the environment, women’s and civil rights required a similar combination of legal and cultural shifts.

Later phases of the evaluation will reflect changes and experiences from the perspectives of both employers and employees after implementation of the ordinance. We can expect to find that employees will offer a very different perspective, and that outreach to individual workers – many of whom don’t live in Seattle – is more difficult than to employers. Employers’ responses, once they have experience with the ordinance, can be expected to be mostly positive, based on recent studies of similar ordinances in San Francisco and Washington, DC.

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