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Friday, January 15, 2021

Paid sick leave now an option for hourly workers

By Giovanni Roverso

Washington state residents earning minimum wage received another pay increase in 2018, as well as the right to paid sick leave hours.

State Initiative 1433, which voters approved in November 2016, caused the minimum hourly wage to increase by half a dollar to $11.50 compared to last year’s $1.53 increase. The initiative mandates bringing the minimum wage up to $13.50 in increments by 2020 and also mandated the introduction of paid sick leave for all.

Employees, including work-study, part-time and seasonal workers now accrue a minimum of one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked. Employees can begin using accrued hours 90 days after Jan. 1 or the beginning of a new job, whichever occurs first, according to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

The law guarantees employees do not suffer retaliation for using paid sick leave hours. Employees can use their hours to care for themselves or a family member. The hours can be used when their workplace, or a dependent’s school or place of care, has been closed by a public official for health-related reasons.

The hours may also be used for absences qualifying under the state Domestic Violence Leave Act, whereby victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking can take reasonable leave from work to take care of various needs. Family members of such victims can also take reasonable leave to help them.

Western’s Student Employment Center manager, Barbara Luton, is happy all workers at the university, can take advantage of paid sick leave now.

“I think it’s a fabulous benefit. It’s been a lot of work getting it set up, for human resources to get developed, and they’ve worked hard on it,” she said.

Freshman Amy Pollock helps a customer in the Viking Union Market. The changes being made will affect all student employees. // Photo by October Yates

Up to 40 unused paid sick leave hours will carry over to the next year, unless the employer allows more. Sick leave hours are paid out at the employee’s regular wage.

The final rules on the paid sick leave regulations were signed by Labor and Industries Director Joel Sacks in October 2017.

Employers must make their policies regarding verification or reasonable notice for sick leave readily available.

According to the law, when an employee’s leave is longer than three work days an employer can require verification that they used paid sick leave for an authorized purpose. If an employer requires verification, workers have up to 10 days to provide it.

“For student employees, we are not requiring verification after three days of absence,” Luton said. She also said the university is not enforcing a reasonable notice rule and will wait until June before re-evaluating the policy.

Another right employees have in terms of privacy is that employers cannot ask about the nature of the health condition when verifying through a healthcare provider.

Ty Fortune, a freshman who plays rugby at Western, said he isn’t supported financially by his family. He relies on working wherever he can during school breaks to build up a safety cushion.

On top of his hourly job last quarter, Fortune would work odd jobs on the side. He said being sick and not having someone to cover a work shift made it challenging to deal with school work.

“It was really hard for me to keep my job, but I had a really nice boss,” Fortune said.

Per the new changes, employers also can’t force employees to find someone to cover their shift when using paid sick leave hours.

Fortune said he has multiple friends who have had to go to work at their on-campus jobs when sick because no one else could cover their shifts.

“That’s not really healthy for anyone, but they still had to do it,” Fortune said.

Luton said the university is going to wait and see how things go. Human Resources and Student Employment will work together on any issue that comes up during a six month testing period.

Lutton said the added costs of paying for sick leave will not impact the cost of tuition for students, since tuition is set by the state legislature.

Luton said the new policy for part-time employees, which include student workers, is not as generous as the policy the University has for permanent workers, like most university staff, who accrue paid sick leave hours more rapidly and carry over more at the end of the year.

With a written policy, employers may permit employees to share their paid sick leave hours with other employees. Luton said Western only enables this for permanent employees in certain circumstances, so students who are part-time workers cannot share hours.

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