Some lawmakers want to establish minimum standards for paid sick and safe leave for Washington workers.
Under House Bill 1356, employers with more than four full-time or equivalent employees would be required to grant paid sick leave to employees for medical reasons involving themselves or family members.
Additionally, the bill would require employers to grant safe leave for employees who are at threat of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, or in times when their workplaces or children’s schools have been closed for public health concerns.
Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said she’s sponsoring the bill in hopes that it decreases the spread of highly transmittable illnesses, and that it also prevents workers from being punished for tending to the health needs of their families and to themselves.
She said there are workers who aren’t capable of staying home for work, for instance, if they had a sick child.
“They have to make decisions about whether or not to stay home with their ill child or to put food on the table at the end of the week,” she said. “That didn’t seem like an appropriate decision for people to have to make.”
The bill establishes guidelines for how many hours of paid leave an employee can have based on the number of workers employed by the business.
People who work for a business that has four to 50 full time employees could use 40 hours of paid leave for the year. People working for a business that has 250 or more employees could have 72 hours of paid leave for the year.
Employers with four or fewer employees are exempt from the bill. The paid sick leave requirements would apply to all workers, including union employees, unless they are clearly waived in a union’s contract.
Joan Lankford, a school nurse from the North Thurston School District and member of the School Nurse Organization of Washington, says the bill would help prevent the spread of illnesses. She said kids wouldn’t be forced to go to school sick if their parent could stay home to care for them.
“If they go straight to the classroom, they’re exposing all the staff and their classmates to their germs,” she said. “We can’t risk having that happen.”
Business owners disagree on whether the bill would have a positive or negative impact on their companies.
Patrick Connor of the National Federation of Independent Business, said that, while business owners don’t want employees working sick, there’s a cost when people are gone from work. He said small businesses are impacted when they have to pay for replacement workers for a sick employee, or deal with lost sales that occur from the lack of productivity in an employee’s absence.
“Small businesses greatly prefer to work with their employees to design a benefit program that makes the most sense for their particular operation,” he said. “Let’s help small businesses get back on track instead of running them over with this train.”
Makini Howell has established paid leave for employees in her business, Plum Bistro – a variety of vegan cuisine restaurants and a food truck in Seattle.
Howell said the benefit doesn’t hurt her business in any way and, that other small business owners she knows have had similar success. She said communities like to see business owners take care of their employees.
“The growth of Plum really shows how much supporting a bill like this can increase your business and increase your standing in the community,” she said. “It works.”