SeaTac’s New Workplace Ordinance May be Dante’s 9th Circle of Hell

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First of two parts

Dante, the Italian poet and author, was famous for numbering the Circles of Hell.

In the State of Washington, the City of SeaTac’s new minimum wage, sick and safe time leave ordinance creates its own circles of Hell for employers.

SeaTac, home to Seattle’s international airport, was hailed by higher minimum wage advocates for mandating a “living wage” for employees working in and around the city’s concentration of airport-related businesses.

Depending on your point of view, it is now either a living wage mecca, or a new Circle of Hell.

Essentials of the SeaTac ordinance

Effective Jan. 1, 2014, the city’s voter-adopted ordinance created new mandatory benefits for certain hospitality and transportation employees. The regulation addresses non-supervisory employees working within the city limits. Although it was also intended to cover workers at the airport itself, a judge ruled last month that businesses within the airport’s official boundaries are exempt.

Here are the essentials of the new ordinance:

  • $15 minimum wage — Transportation and hospitality employers within the City of SeaTac must now provide their non-management employees a minimum wage of $15 per hour, paid sick and safe leave, and mandated retention benefits for laid-off workers.
  • Retention benefits — Are to be extended to workers who may have been laid off by their previous business owner or operator in the past 90 days.
  • Sick leave” — May be used for the employee’s own illness, or to care for a family member.
  • “Safe leave” — Is leave that is connected in many cases with school emergency closings, victim status, etc.

Several cities have now enacted these types of ordinances, but this one is particularly onerous due to its unusual tracking requirements and its applicability only to certain industries.

How the ordinance turns sick/safe time on its head

SeaTac has turned the concept of sick leave on its head. The purpose of sick leave was to allow employees to stay home during times of illness without economic loss.

Sick leave encouraged those sick to not come to work and avoid spreading a potential infectious condition such as the flu. The philosophy was that if there was no economic loss to staying home when an employee had a case of the flu, this would prevent them from becoming the proverbial Typhoid Mary and creating a company epidemic.

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SeaTac’s ordinance created an incentive to do exactly the opposite. The ordinance requires that at the end of each calendar year the employee must be paid for any unused leave. This creates a financial incentive to work during periods of illness. In addition, the use of sick and safe time leave cannot be counted in connection with any neutral attendance policy.

A highly conditional minimum wage

But sick and safe time isn’t the worst part – it’s tracking who is entitled to the minimum wage, how much of it they’re due (depending on where they are based, their whereabouts during the work day, and what industry they’re working in, among other criteria).

I doubt that any of the voters signing petitions and voting for the ordinance gave much thought to the multiple regulatory burdens this crazy scheme has placed on SeaTac’s hospitality and transportation employers. Clearly these are this city’s two largest industries, so the impact is huge.

And that’s why we’re calling them out on it.

Tomorrow: What’s in all these new Circles of Hell for employers in SeaTac.

This originally appeared on the GeniusHR blog.

Steve Cape got interested in the practical impacts of employment laws on small business when he saw too many of his firm’s clients dealing with compliance rather than growing the business. He feels their pain, having operated several of them himself before coming to GeniusHR as Chief Compliance Officer. Steve is the real “wizard’ behind the legal wizards in the GeniusHR platform, helping GeniusHR clients avoid stupid mistakes, bogus claims and unwitting legal violations.

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