Employee Experience with Seattle Paid Sick and Safe Leave

In September 2012, Seattle became the third U.S. city to implement a paid sick leave ordinance. By early 2015, more than 20 cities and four states had paid sick leave laws on the books. Seattle’s law requires employers with more than four employees (full-time equivalents) to provide paid sick and safe leave for the health needs of workers and their family members, and to deal with the consequences of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

Initial evaluations of Seattle’s law and experiences in other localities suggest that many workers are likely to remain unaware of their rights to sick days. Lower wage workers are the least likely to be offered paid leave voluntarily by their employers, and with little bargaining power, are often unable to assert their legal rights even if aware of them.

To gain additional insight into the extent to which lower wage workers in Seattle are aware of the sick leave law and have access to paid sick leave, the Economic Opportunity Institute conducted a survey in partnership with the YWCA Seattle|King|Snohomish in the spring of 2015. Altogether, 83 people who had worked in Seattle during the preceding year participated. The responses to this survey provide insight into how widely Seattle’s sick leave law is being followed, but are not statistically valid for all Seattle workers.

In 2014, Seattle took the additional step of adopting its first citywide minimum wage ordinance. With multiple labor standards in effect, the City of Seattle is in the process of building a more robust enforcement capacity and undertaking renewed outreach to vulnerable workers in partnership with community organizations.