Washington Sick Leave Laws Create Hodgepodge of Timekeeping Requirements

Avatar photo


HR tech that powers small businesses. Get in, get the job done and keep your business moving with an easy to use solution for time, HR and benefits.

Washington Sick Leave Laws and Regulations

In 2016, Washington State voted into law a Paid Sick Leave Law. However, several cities, including Seattle, Tacoma, SeaTac, and Spokane have already passed sick leave laws for their cities. Each cities laws vary, but this article will address the differences between each city and how employers can better stay compliant with laws and avoid costly fines and penalties.

Seattle Paid Sick and Time Ordinance (PSST) Laws

Seattle was one of the first cities to pass mandatory laws requiring employers to offer paid sick leave to their employees. Seattle requires employers with five full-time employees or more to provide earned sick time. Included in the law employers to offer safe day laws for instances where an employee or family member’s school or place of employment is closed for a health hazard or for domestic violence issues. The number of sick days and safe time differs, based on the size of the employers.  Employers are classified as tier 1, 2 and 3 employers based on the number of full-time employees. The sick leave and safe time laws apply to all employees, legal workers, illegal workers, workers stationed outside of Seattle that still work occasionally in Seattle, temporary and other employees. The employees that the law does not apply to includes employees in the building trades, work-study employees, volunteers, Federal Government employees, and contractors.

Businesses are required to track employee hours. This is true of employees deemed “occasional basis employees” who primarily work outside of Seattle, but whose employment brings them in and through Seattle city limits. Further, employees are required to retain all records and reporting of their employees, time worked, and paid leave for three years, instead of the previous two. In-house payroll and benefits tracking is difficult without a good payroll system. This is especially important the requirements for timesheet and employee accounting are specific and differ based on the employee type and the employer tier.  

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. Once employees have become eligible, they remain eligible for the following year as well.

The Tacoma paid leave ordinance includes five main reasons employees can get time off. Employees can get time off for illness, when your place of work or child’s school has been closed by a public official, for legal or law enforcement help relating to domestic violence, to seek safety from domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault, and bereavement. All of these reasons apply to both the employee and the employee’s family.

Employees that are rehired within 6 months must have their paid time off that was previously earned reinstated. When the leave is foreseeable, the employee must give their employer 10 days advanced warning.

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.

Spokane Sick Time Ordinance Laws

New Sick time ordinances will take effect on Jan 1, 2017. With the passing of Washington’s Paid Sick Leave Law Statewide, Spokane has implemented a sunset clause on their sick leave ordinance that expires on December 31, 2017. The following day, Washington’s sick leave law takes effect. Although the name of the ordinance specifically covers sick time, it also provides for safe time for employees. Paid sick and safe time leave (PSSL) includes any time spent on physical health, appointments, sickness, injuries, etc. Safe time includes issues that arise as a public health issue, places of work or school closing to the public and domestic violence. Sick leave can also be used for bereavement. Employees are able to take the time off for themselves or for a family member. Family members include dependents, spouses, parents or other close family members. The new law applies to any employee who works in Spokane for 240 hours or more in a given year. All employers with at least 1 employee, are required to provide sick time. Employees will be awarded 1 hours of sick time for every 30 hours worked. Companies can decide whether they are going to accrue this sick time on a calendar year or on a fiscal year, but are required to disclose which year it is in the employee handbook. The exceptions to this law are workers in the building trades, and temporary, seasonal and work-study employees. The other exception to this law includes city, state and federal employees.

SeaTac Paid Sick Leave for Hospitality and Transportation Workers

After several rounds of Legal debate in the court systems, the SeaTac Paid Sick Leave Ordinance stands for all employees, including airport workers. SeaTac’s new mandatory sick leave applies to all hospitality and transportation workers. Employees are able to earn unlimited sick leave each year and can’t be capped on usage or accrual. Employees earn 1 hour of sick leave for every 40 hours of time worked. Unlike surrounding cities or the State Sick Leave Law, SeaTac requires employers to pay out unused sick leave at the end of each calendar year. This means that workers who work while sick can expect to be paid for that unused sick time. The rules vary for the employees that are covered and depend on the size of the business. Our article on SeaTac covers the ins and outs more completely. SeaTac’s sick leave ordinance means different hourly wages and different sick leave accrual for employees that don’t exclusively work in SeaTac. It also means a crazy set of alternating rules for Washington State Employers.

Paid Sick and Safe Time Off Laws by City- See our Comprehensive chart

Spokane Tacoma Seattle
Accrual Rates Uniform for all employers Uniform for all employers Varies based on employer size
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.
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.

National Sick Leave Policy

Nationally, there are no sick leave laws requiring sick leave. However, the FMLA, (Family and Medical Leave Act) require unpaid sick leave with job protection for Washington 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, including all Washington companies that work with Federal agencies. This new policy requires that government contractors give employees 7 days per the 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 roll over 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.

The executive order provides sick leave for a wide variety of situations, including sickness for the employee, the employee’s immediate family, and dependents. It also includes provisions for domestic violence, stalking, preventative care, counseling, relocation, legal processes for the stalking situation and other specific circumstances. Washington companies with Federal contracts must be able to manage and meet these regulations.

Compliance with State 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. Although Washington does not have specific sick paid laws, there are many other state-specific laws in place regarding employee time card and benefits. These laws have massive fines and penalties applied to them for companies that violate the regulations. Washington employers that 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 time clock 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 an 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.


City of Seattle Paid Sick Time Off and Safe Time Ordinance. 2016. Retrieved from: //www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/CivilRights/psst-faq.pdf

Orr, Dylan. Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance. Office of Labor  Standards. 2016. http://www.seattle.gov/laborstandards/ordinances/paid-sick-and-safe-time

McClatchey, Brian, Earned Safe and Sick Leave. Spokane City. https://my.spokanecity.org/citycouncil/items-of-interest/sick-leave/

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

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

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 State Sick Leave Laws Statewide Chart

Written by Annemaria Duran. Last Updated on February 7, 2017

Simplify HR management today.

Simplify HR management today.

Everything You Need to Know About the Corporate Transparency Act (And How It Impacts Your Business)

April 19, 2024
Posted in ,

Staying current on legislation that may impact your business or impose new regulations is vital to remaining in compliance and avoiding costly fines. One piece of legislation that affects nearly all businesses under $5 million in gross revenue is the Corporate Transparency Act. If your business gross revenue comes in under that threshold and you…

Read More
construction working clocking in with gps time clock

Your Guide to GPS Time Tracking (Geofencing)

March 29, 2024
Posted in , , ,

Updated March 19, 2024 When your business has employees working remotely or at various job sites, time tracking can become a challenge, particularly if the company relies on physical clocks for punching in and out. But offering a mobile app or web-based tracking solution can cause some concerns. You might wonder whether employees are clocking…

Read More

WorkforceHub takes care of business.

We’ll show you how.

Request a Demo - Footer Form

Looking for help? Please click here.

brand - dots