On March 16, 2020, the Seattle City Council passed an amendment to Seattle’s Paid Sick and Paid Safe Time (PSST) law which expands the available reasons for leave, inspired by caregiver shortages and workplace closures caused by COVID-19 (coronavirus). The amendment became effective immediately on March 16, 2020, with no expiration date.
The amendment expands the use of leave for “school or place of care” closures under the “Paid Safe Time” part of PSST. Under the original ordinance, employees could use PSST for a child’s school closure if the closure was ordered by a public official for any health-related reason. But under the amended ordinance, employees may now use PSST when a family member’s school or place of care has been closed for any reason, and the closure doesn’t have to result from a public official’s order. That means if the school or place of care of an employee’s family member closes for economic or staffing reasons, the employee can use PSST, regardless of whether a public official ordered the closure. The amendment replaces the term “child” with the term “family member” for the purposes of “school or place of care closures,” and defines “family member” as a “child, spouse, registered domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild, or sibling,” which means an employee could use PSST for situations such as the closure of a grandparent’s nursing home or a grandchild’s daycare.
The amendment also requires “Tier 3” employers that have reduced operations or closed for any health-or-safety-related reason to let their employees use PSST. “Tier 3” employers are those with 250 or more employees, including part-time, temporary, or staffing agency employees, and including companies and integrated enterprises (e.g., franchises) with 250 or more employees worldwide that have locations in Seattle. If a Tier 3 employer has “reduced operations” (i.e., cut hours) or closed altogether for any health- or safety-related reason, they must grant their employees use of available PSST.
As we previously reported, the leave provisions of the new emergency federal legislation – the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), effective April 1, 2020 – don’t apply to employers with 500 or more employees. But Seattle employers with 250 or more employees will still have to comply with the new PSST requirements, even if they’re exempt from the new federal requirements. Tier 3 employers subject to the new federal legislation (i.e., Seattle employers with 250-499 employees) will be required to grant their employees both emergency paid sick leave under the federal legislation (for the reasons listed in that legislation) and PSST under the amended Seattle ordinance (for the reasons listed in that ordinance, including the new reasons).
Tips: The Seattle Office of Labor Standards (OLS) issued easy-to-read updated guidance that details both the old and new reasons employees can use PSST, and stated they will issue more guidance as the federal legislation comes into play. The ordinance and the OLS guidance also detail the circumstances under which employers can ask their employees for documentation that the use of PSST is necessary (i.e., after three continuous days of use), but “encourage employers to be as flexible as possible during this time,” since verification can be unnecessarily burdensome on other institutions (such as daycares and nursing homes) already struggling to cope with the current situation. Read the OLS guidance thoroughly. Members: call your Vigilant Law Group employment attorney with any remaining questions.