With Labor Day weekend, Seattle becomes the third city in the U.S. to mandate paid leave for employees to care for themselves or a sick family member.

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The phone was ringing off the hook last week at the Seattle Office for Civil Rights as the city approached the Sept. 1 start date for a new law requiring businesses with five or more workers to provide paid sick leave.

Michael Chin, enforcement manager for the office, said staff members have been helping employers understand the new law, whom it covers and the changes some businesses need to make to bring existing sick-leave policies into compliance.

The goal now, he said, is “not how many businesses we can find to penalize, but how can we provide assistance to them in implementing this.”

Seattle becomes just the third city in the nation, after San Francisco and Washington, D.C., to mandate paid leave for employees to care for themselves or a sick family member. The state of Connecticut also has approved mandatory paid sick leave.

In general, people who work in Seattle at least 240 hours a year will begin accruing paid sick leave at a rate of one hour for every 40 hours worked. In addition to staying home when sick, workers can use the time off for medical diagnosis, treatment, preventive care of a mental or physical illness, or to care for a family member.

It also allows time off for victims of domestic violence, and for parents when a school or day care is closed because of a public-health concern.

“By the first of October, many employees will have accumulated a half-day of sick leave,” said Marilyn Watkins, policy director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, a nonprofit organization that advocated for the new law.

“When those employees get a call from school that their child has a fever of 103, they can go pick up that child and still get paid,” Watkins said.

The Office for Civil Rights has conducted extensive outreach to businesses since the law was approved by the Seattle City Council a year ago.

Workshops in Ballard and Capitol Hill last week had more than 250 attendees, many of them from small businesses wondering how to track and award accrued sick leave and how to ensure that existing sick-leave policies are in compliance with the new law, said Chin.

Many businesses are struggling to adopt the new requirements, said Sean Corry, president of Sprague, Israel, Giles, an insurance brokerage firm that works with many nonprofit businesses.

He said one of the complications of the new law is the need to track the hours of employees who spend just part of their work time in Seattle.

“There’s a huge amount of compliance required of companies that already have robust sick-leave policies,” Corry said.

Chin said the Office for Civil Rights will continue offering help to businesses in the coming months and try to resolve issues collaboratively. Ultimately, though, he said, the office will be charged with enforcing the law, ordering employers to comply or face court action, and protecting the paid time off to which workers are now legally entitled.

Lynn Thompson:

206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.