Seattle to battle over sick leave

Jun 21, 2011

In what is likely to be a contentious summer debate, the Seattle City Council will receive a proposal this week to mandate all Seattle workers be allowed between five and nine paid sick days a year.

The paid sick leave proposal going in front of the council is backed by the Seattle Coalition for a Healthy Workforce and some 20 local businesses. 

Seattle City councilmember Nick Licata is spearheading the plan

“Everyone gets sick at some point and we don’t want to have a situation where they have to stay home and lose a paycheck or go to work and spread their disease. Or if their child is sick, take a day off from work.  This makes Seattle a healthy environment for the employees and the businesses more successful.”

The ordinance would mandate all businesses with fewer than 50 full-time employees offer their workers up to five paid sick days a year. Companies with more than 50 employees would have to provide up to nine days off, depending on their size.  The new plan also allows employees to choose between trading a shift with a co-worker and using a sick day.

An earlier version of the proposal – one modeled on San Francisco’s plan, which was tougher on smaller businesses – had been strongly opposed by the Washington Restaurant Association.  They argued the ordinance would create an onerous expense for doing business in Seattle, cause prices to rise and force reductions in employee numbers.

Local restaurant owner, David Meinert, was one of those critics. But after working with the Healthy Workforce coalition to make concessions favoring small business owners, he now backs the plan.

“I think the coalition in this case didn’t understand biz as much as they could have. They recognized that and they were open to talking with business owners and learning about it and adjusting this ordinance to not only look at what’s a good idea but also what works in the real world.”

If adopted, Seattle would be the fourth city in the country to require employers to provide paid sick leave, following the footsteps of San Francisco, Milwaukee, and Washington D.C.

The Council will consider the proposal this summer.