The big change statewide will be a new paid sick-leave law, mandating that for every 40 hours worked, employees earn at least an hour of paid time off for medical or related reasons.
Another year is on its way in, and that means another minimum-wage increase for workers across Washington state. This time, Jan. 1 also brings paid sick leave to nearly all employed Washingtonians.
The changes to workplace wages in 2018 will be mostly incremental. Washington state’s minimum-wage increases from $11 to $11.50 per hour. Young workers — 14 or 15 years old — can be paid at a lower rate, $9.78 per hour. (Those younger teens are restricted in how many hours they can work, which is generally 16 hours per week during the school year and 40 hours a week when school is out.)
Across the state, just 1.4 percent of full-time-equivalent jobs earned Washington’s minimum wage of $9.47 in 2016, a drop from 2.1 percent in 2015, according to the state Employment Security Department. The decrease is largely due to Seattle’s rising minimum wage, which lifted many people to higher earnings.
Implementing paid sick leave will be the bigger challenge to employers, after an initiative approved by voters in 2016 takes effect on the first of the year. It calls for most full-time, part-time and temporary employees to accrue paid sick leave.
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The state paid sick-leave law ensures that employees earn at least an hour of paid time off for every 40 hours worked. That time can be used when the worker or a family member is ill, when an office or school has been closed for any health-related reason or as provided under the domestic-violence leave law.
For some employers, especially small businesses, offering paid sick leave is a whole new world, said Tim Church, public-affairs manager for the state Department of Labor and Industries.
The department has been holding training sessions and offering templates to get businesses on the right track. It also spent about $250,000 on a media campaign to make businesses aware of the law.
The state will start enforcing the new law next year, but Church said its primary goal is to make sure employers know what to do. The state first will work with companies to get them in compliance. Only if businesses don’t get in line will it impose financial penalties.
A few Washington cities already have a paid sick-leave law, among them Seattle and Tacoma. Both cities’ laws are similar to the new state act, and Seattle changed its law slightly this year to match the state’s law, which was more generous.
The same holds true for minimum wage, where Seattle’s pay rate outpaces the state.
In 2018, large Seattle employers will reach the promised $15 per hour for employees, and those that don’t offer medical benefits will pay $15.45.
Small Seattle companies, with 500 or fewer employees, will pay $11.50 an hour in 2018, or $14 an hour without medical benefits or where employees don’t earn at least $2.50 an hour in tips.
The increase will likely mean hiring will slow down a bit, said Robert Plotnick, a professor emeritus at UW’s Evans School of Public Policy and Governance. Plotnick and the rest of a UW team studying Seattle’s minimum wage have found that hiring is not increasing as quickly as it is in comparable regions.
Still, Plotnick added, Seattle’s economy is booming, so hiring numbers are still going up.
A broad state law setting in place paid leave for new parents as well as extended medical leave was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee in July, and will take effect in 2020. Employers and employees will start paying into that program in 2019.