Tacoma to keep the parts of its paid-leave law that help more workers

The city of Tacoma has made changes to its paid-leave law to align with the state’s, but it also will keep expanded enforcement capabilities that officials say have resulted in more workers seeing relief under the regulations.

The amendments the City Council passed Tuesday allow the city to keep an enforcement model that it recently said has helped almost 600 workers get what they were owed under Tacoma’s paid-leave law, which took effect in early 2016.

When the city investigates a business for a potential violation, its staff investigate the entire business for violations, instead of seeking to only get compensation for the individual who made the complaint.

The amendments the City Council passed also allow it to continue to provide paid-sick leave to overtime-exempt employees, something the state’s law doesn’t provide.

The state law, passed last year by voters along with an escalating minimum-wage increase, goes into effect in January. The state's law is more generous in some areas, including the amount of sick leave provided, and now the city's law will be as generous as the state's in that regard.

The big difference is in enforcement.

According to city of Tacoma staff, during the first 18 months the city’s paid-leave law was in effect, 595 workers received nearly $169,000 in value from recovered leave and wages through its practice of investigating an entire workplace for possible violations.

Under enforcement regulations currently under review by state Labor & Industries, those numbers would have been much lower, since those rules would require investigations and enforcements of only individual complaints, not of the individuals and their coworkers.

During that same period, according to city staff, only 20 workers would have been compensated, and just $4,672 in value from recovered leave and wages would have been returned to workers.

Councilman Joe Lonergan said last week that the city should nudge the state to adopt Tacoma's broader enforcement model.

"Our ultimate goal should be to have an aligned set of rules and a singular enforcement model," Lonergan said. "I agree our enforcement model is better for employers and employees and for the city, so I think everyone involved would benefit from our modern-day enforcement model."

The city budgeted roughly $700,000 in the 2017-18 biennium for its enforcement, outreach and education.

Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441, @candiceruud