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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 24 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 43
City Auditor calls for tougher enforcement of paid sick leave law
Section One
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City Auditor calls for tougher enforcement of paid sick leave law

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Seattle City Auditor David Jones says the City should get tougher with employers who violate the paid sick leave ordinance.

In a report issued October 17, Jones's office says that some employers are still not complying with the measure, although it went into effect September 1, 2012.

The Paid Sick and Safe Time (PSST) ordinance 'requires employers with more than four full-time employees to provide workers with paid leave for illness, preventative care, and critical safety needs related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking,' Jones's report notes.

Before the measure passed, an estimated 190,000 workers - nearly 40% of Seattle's total workforce - had no paid sick leave at all.

The ordinance passed the Seattle City Council 8-1, with only Richard Conlin voting No. That vote was one of the reasons Conlin subsequently lost his seat to challenger Kshama Sawant in November 2012.

According to Jones, the Seattle Office of Civil Rights - the agency charged with enforcing the ordinance - urged noncompliant employers to cooperate with a 'non-adversarial letter.'

'Hey, we got a complaint about you. Can we give you some information or assistance to take care of that complaint?' is the way Jones characterized the City's approach in an interview with KPLU radio. 'So the emphasis was on compliance rather than punishment.'

That approach did not always work well, Jones found, especially for employees who were owed back pay for sick time.

'While some advisory letters resulted in business owners taking corrective actions such as agreeing to pay back wages owed to employees for sick and safe time leave, SOCR did not routinely address individual employee or companywide remedies, such as back pay for paid sick and safe time requests that were denied by employers,' the report says.

Jones also found that the Office of Civil Rights was not required to hold formal investigations into employee complaints or conduct site visits to employers' premises, and therefore 'did not ensure that businesses were in complete compliance with all of the ordinance's requirements.'

In their report, Jones' office has made 13 recommendations, such as opening more full-scale investigations, and awarding employees back wages.

'What we're saying in our report is, gee, city decision-makers, you may want to rethink that sort of soft approach now that we've been almost two years into the law, and switch to more punitive tools when they make sense,' Jones said.

The Office of Civil Rights said it agreed with almost all of the recommendations. Director Patricia Lally told KPLU that many of them are already being implemented.

Lally added that her agency's enforcement procedure depends on direction from the Mayor and the City Council. She also noted that her office was given only one full-time staffer for enforcement.

Seattle City Council Member Nick Licata has proposed a new City Department of Labor Standards to enforce paid sick leave, minimum wage, and wage theft ordinances.

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