Tacoma Passes Paid Leave Ordinance that affects every employee in the city

Tacoma Paid Leave Ordinance
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Overview of Tacoma Paid Leave Ordinance

Tacoma was the third city in Washington State to adopt paid sick leave laws. Under the Tacoma paid leave Ordinance, every employee who works 80+ hours inside city limits is eligible to receive sick time off. Unlike other cities and states, Tacoma offers no exceptions to businesses, regardless of size or number of employees. Once employees have become eligible, they remain eligible for the following year as well. 

The Tacoma Paid Leave Act took effect February 1, 2016. Employees started earning sick leave. Employees earn 1 hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked. Employees are able to earn up to a minimum of 24 hours of paid leave each year. Employers can cap leave usage at 24 hours a year. The calendar year is defined in the ordinance as a calendar year, a 12 month period starting on the date of the employee’s hire date or a fiscal year.

Eligible Employee for Sick Leave

All employees who work at least 80 hours in Tacoma City limits are eligible to start earning sick leave. This includes full time, part time, temporary employee. Employees who work through a staffing agency are also considered employees and are eligible.

Exceptions to Paid Leave

Employees who are working on a work-study program are exempt from the sick leave law. Independent contractors are also considered exempt from mandatory paid leave. Additionally, employees who only occasionally work in Tacoma are exempt as long as they work less than 80 hours during the year in Tacoma City Limits. US Government employees, State employees, and other local and county government employees are also exempt. Lastly, a single employee business is exempt.  

Allowable Uses for Paid Leave (Sick Leave)

The Tacoma paid leave ordinance includes five main reasons employees can get time off. Employees can get time off for both themselves, a family member, or a household member for the allowable reasons. They can take time off for an existing health condition, illness, or injury for care, treatment or to seek a medical diagnosis. This includes both mental and physical health conditions. If the employee, or their child’s place or work, school, or place or care has been closed for by order of a public official to limit exposure to an infectious agent, biological toxin, or hazardous material. If the employee, family member, or household member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, they can use paid leave to seek help with law enforcement or legal assistance, or to ensure their safety from any further incidents. They can obtain services from a domestic violence shelter, rape crisis center, or other social services for relief from domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. They can also use leave to obtain new housing or to relocate for safety reasons. Lastly, employees can take paid leave for bereavement for the death of a family member.

  • Health Condition, Injury, or Illness: To obtain a diagnosis, care or treatment
  • If the business, school, or place of care has been closed by a public official
  • Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Stalking:
    • To obtain law enforcement or legal assistance, including preparing for or participating in any civil or criminal proceedings related
    • To obtain services from a domestic violence shelter, rape crisis center, or other social program designed to provide relief from domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
    • To participate in safety planning, relocate, or take other actions to ensure their safety
    • To take bereavement for the death of a family member
  • Reasons are for the employee, their family member or a household member

Family Member Definitions

In addition to recognizing specific family relationships, Tacoma also recognizes household member relationships. First, Tacoma recognizes the following family member definitions of child, regardless of age or dependency, parents, spouse and grandparent. Tacoma also recognizes biological, adopted, foster, step, legal ward, and in loco parentis relationships for children. Accepted parent relationships include adopted, biological or in loco parentis relationships. The ordinance doesn’t specifically recognize foster or step relationships, although often those relationships would count as in loco parentis relationships as well. Spouses include both a spouse and a domestic partner. Domestic partners are specifically defined as legally registered domestic partners. On September 27, 2017 Tacoma updated the family relationships allowed under the ordinance. Allowable family relationships also include de facto parents, stepparents, and foster parents. The city also struck the clause about regarding a child being under 18 years old and added “regardless of age or dependency” Grandchildren and siblings are now included in the family relationships. Tacoma defined a sibling as any children who share a parent or whose parents are in a spouse relationship. 

  • Child: biological, adopted, step, foster, legal ward, in loco parentis
  • Parent: biological, adopted, a person who stood in loco parentis, de facto parent, step and foster parent. 
  • Grandparent
  • Grandchild
  • Spouse or Registered Domestic Partner
  • Sibling: half siblings and step siblings.

The definition of a household member is where accepted definitions become very vague. A household member includes, in addition to spouses and domestic partners, ex-spouses and ex-domestic partners. Persons with a child in common, even if they don’t live together, are also included. The law also recognizes adults related by blood or marriage, adults who reside together or who have resided together in the past. Additionally, 16 yr old persons who have had or do have a dating relationship and who do or have resided together in the past are included as are step parents, stepchildren, and grandparents and grandchildren.

  • Former spouses and former domestic partners
  • Persons with a child in common
  • Adult persons related by blood or marriage
  • Adults who reside or who have previously resided together
  • 16 yr old or older who have previously or currently resided together AND who have a dating relationship or who have had a dating relationship
  • Biological or legal parent-child relationship, including stepparents and step children and grandparents and grandchildren.

Accrual of Paid Sick Leave and Probationary Period

Employees earn sick leave at 1 hour for every 40 hours worked. Exempt employees are assumed to work a 40-hour workweek and don’t earn additional leave hours for overtime hours. Sick leave accrual starts on the first date of employment. However, the employer can restrict sick leave usage until the employee has worked for the employer for 180 days. After 180 days, the accrued sick leave can be used.

Employees can roll up to 24 hours of sick leave to the following year. However, employers can restrict the use of sick leave to a maximum of 40 hours in a calendar year.

Coordinating with other leave programs

Employers can provide more leave than is required by law. Further, employers who already provide paid leave and who provide at least 24 hours of paid leave a year and allow employees to use leave for the allowable reasons under the Tacoma Ordinance don’t need to provide additional leave. This includes any Paid Time Off (PTO) or premium pay program.

Sick Leave Bank

Employees that are rehired within 12 months must have their paid time off that was previously earned reinstated. (The original ordinance had a 6-month sick leave bank after employment was terminated). The only exception to this is when the employee is rehired, but it is in a different calendar year. In that case, the sick leave doesn’t have to be reinstated.

When the leave is foreseeable, the employee must give their employer 10 days advanced warning. If it’s unforeseeable, then the employee must provide notice as soon as it possible. Employers can also allow employees to donate leave to another employee to be used for the allowable reasons.

Record Keeping and Notice

Employers are required to maintain records of employee time tracking and paid time off for a minimum of 3 years. These reports can be demanded with a 5-day window to supply the needed reports. It is more important than ever before that payroll companies have the tools necessary for their clients to track and report compliance with the new ordinances. Employers must either provide notice of employee’s Paid Leave Rights under the ordinance via posting a poster in a conspicuous place in the workplace, by providing it through an employee handbook or providing it to new employees.

The 2017 rule changes added permission for employers to verify allowed use once an employee has used 3 or more consecutive days of sick leave. Employers’ request for information can’t violate confidentiality or be an unreasonable burden to employees.

Penalties for Violations against the Tacoma Paid Sick Leave Ordinance

Tacoma has outlined a number of remedies for violations against the paid leave ordinance. First, businesses found to have violated the ordinance must pay back the amount of leave denied plus a 1% interest for each month from the time of violations. Second, the Director can find a business $250 for any violation. If the violation was willful or subsequent, then the fine is a minimum of $250 or 2 times the total value of the unpaid leave, whichever is greater.

Paid Leave Differences between Spokane, Tacoma, and Seattle:

For more information see this article. Additionally, Spokane has passed an updated amendment to their sick leave ordinance, which now includes a sunset clause phasing out the sick leave requirements as the Washington State requirements implement on January 1, 2018.

Spokane Tacoma Seattle
Accrual Rates Uniform for all employers 1 hour for every 40 hours worked Varies based on employer size. Between 1 hour for every 40 and 1 hour for every 30 hours worked.
Accrual Caps No Cap 24 hours per the calendar year No Cap
Usage Caps < 10 Employees = 24 hours

10+ Employees = 40 hours

Usage laws vary based on carried hours, and current year’s usage used Based on employer’s size, limits can be imposed. See Seattle Sick Leave Article for more detail.
Increment of use No specification 1-hour increments 1 hour or a quarter of an hour increments
“Year” Does not specify Calendar or Fiscal year Benefit year, can include calendar year, fiscal year, or any other 12 months that define the benefits package.
Occasional Work Employees Employees that work in city limits 240 hours a year or more An employee who works in Tacoma occasionally 80 hours a year or more. Any employee that works in Seattle 240 hours or more in a benefit year.
Rehiring NOT required to reinstate If hired within 6 months, Sick leave must be reinstated If hired within 7 months, sick leave time must be reinstated.
Bereavement Allowed Allowed Not Allowed
Inclement Weather Law is silent No exclusion for inclement weather Not allowed.

Washington Sick Leave Laws and Regulations

The State of Washington voted into law a new Statewide Sick Leave law in November 2016. The new law is set to start on January 1, 2018. Under the new law, all employees will earn 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. One notable difference with the new Washington State law is that there are no annual caps on the number of hours earned or the amount of sick leave usage allowed to employees. This is critical for businesses with employees in Tacoma, Seattle, or Spokane who have to navigate between city sick leave accrual rates that are different than the State rate and various cap and usage limits.

Update: The Tacoma City Counsel was asked in July 2017, to update the Tacoma Sick Leave Ordinance. There are several areas in which the Tacoma ordinance is less generous than the State’s sick leave law. This will create greater complications for businesses in Tacoma that are striving to maintain compliance with both the local and the statewide laws. The Tacoma City Counsel is currently reviewing the ordinance.

Tacoma’s ordinance has lower sick leave accrual caps than the state’s sick leave law provides. However, Tacoma has greater enforcement than the state’s law. The Tacoma law allows employees to file a complaint anonymously and then when the City investigates and finds a compliance issue- every affected employee in the company is provided restitution. Under Washington’s law, only the employee that files the complaint is eligible for restitution.

This is a huge difference for employers. Tacoma City boasts that in the first 18 months, 595 workers were provided a restitution of $169,000 in recovered leave and wages. During the same time-frame, but under the state’s laws, 20 workers would have received 4,672 in recovered wages.

Tacoma updates its Sick Leave Ordinance

Tacoma has revised its sick leave ordinance to create a more expansive ordinance. It kept provisions that allowed overtime exempt employees earning sick leave, which is something that the state law doesn’t provide. The city also updated its sick leave to provide as much as Washington’s. The biggest difference that Tacoma kept is in how the city will enforce its ordinance. While the State will only investigate claims made by individuals, Tacoma investigates the entire business once a claim is made. This allows it to see violations made by the employer and increases the enforcement of sick leave. The city will continue to utilize its broader enforcement under the new rules.

National Sick Leave Policy

Nationally, there are no sick leave laws requiring sick leave. The Tacoma paid leave ordinance does not allow for time off for bonding after giving birth. However, the FMLA, (Family and Medical Leave Act) require unpaid sick leave with job protection for Tacoma employees that meet certain requirements. Employees must have been with their employers for at least 12 months previously. Washington employers who have 50 employees or more within a 75-mile radius are required to honor FMLA. Smaller employers are not required to provide FMLA leave.

Executive Order Regarding Sick Leave

In May 2015, President Obama signed an executive order requiring mandatory sick leave to be provided by all federal contractors that work with Federal agencies. This new policy requires that government contractors give employees 7 days per calendar year of paid sick leave. This includes construction companies, contracts covered under the Service Contract Act, and contracts in connection with federal lands and federal employees. The executive order takes effect on January 1, 2017. Under these provisions, employees earn 1 hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked and are allowed to rollover the sick leave. The law does not require employers to payout the sick leave when the employee leaves the company and if the employee rehires within 12 months, the previously accrued sick leave is reinstated.

Compliance with Tacoma City and National Time and Attendance Laws

It is more important than ever for both large and small employers to have the tools in place that helps them track employee hours and be able to provide reporting in regards to employee hours time cards. Tacoma’s new ordinance covers all employees that work in Tacoma. This applies to employers located outside of Tacoma, but whose employees work in Tacoma occasionally. Businesses should not wait until after a complaint or state investigation to place the proper software in place will pay thousands more in fines and penalties than companies who take steps now to ensure compliance. SwipeClock provides both the time and attendance tools and the workforce management software for employers to track and provide the reports that prove they are complying with state laws. SwipeClock partners with payroll companies and accounting firms to provide timeclock and workforce management solutions that help businesses to stay compliance with both Federal and State regulations. One of the most important aspects of compliance is the ability to provide the required reporting of employees, benefits, and hours worked from and audit standpoint. Payroll providers need a simplistic approach of one software that can serve both their small and larger corporations. SwipeClock can provide one solution for accountants that tracks and creates the reporting needed for their clients.

Let SwipeClock Help

Businesses who have employees in Tacoma, Spokane and throughout Washington, may have to comply with multiple conflicting City ordinances defining Sick leave accrual and usage laws. Additionally, these businesses have to also comply with Federal Overtime Laws, the Family Leave Medical Act and any other national or local laws that are enacted. SwipeClock provides a comprehensive array of workforce management and time tracking tools that can help businesses to more easily stay in compliance with local and national laws. Records are effortlessly kept for years and accrual is automatically tracked and reported to employees according to the state and city laws. Additionally, with geo-timekeeping clocks, businesses can effortlessly track time worked in specific cities to ensure compliance.


Paid Leave Ordinance. Tacoma. Feb, 2016. https://cms.cityoftacoma.org/Finance/paid-leave/Tacoma-Paid-Leave-Ordinance-FAQs.pdf

FAQ for Tacoma City https://www.cityoftacoma.org/cms/One.aspx?pageId=69789

Updated Sick Leave Ordinance https://cms.cityoftacoma.org/Finance/paid-leave/Tacoma-Paid-Leave-Amended-Ordinance28275.pdf

SeaTac Paid Sick Leave Laws for Hospitality and Transportation Workers

Seattle Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance

Spokane Earned Sick and Safe Time Ordinance

Tacoma Paid Leave Ordinance

Washington State Sick Leave Law

Washington’s Sick Leave Laws Comparison Chart

Tacoma updated Sick Leave Ordinance Rule Dated Sept 27, 2017

Written by Annemaria Duran. Last Updated on October 18, 2017

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