ESSL: Where do we go from here?

Audience at the conference hall. No recognisable faces

After many twists and turns, Earned Sick and Safe Leave (ESSL) has officially become law in the City of Spokane.

GSI’s Board of Directors voted in December to oppose the measure on the grounds that a one-size-fits-all leave policy mandated by government will be difficult and costly to implement and enforce, especially for small businesses. It also represents one more government requirement that makes Spokane a less desirable community to do business. We communicated this message as a member of the Council’s ESSL task force – which met in May and June – as well as to City Council members and staff throughout the year, right up to the Council’s vote on Jan. 11. Many thanks to GSI members who were on hand at the public hearing that night to testify about the potential impacts and unintended consequences of this ordinance. Your voices were heard loud and clear!

It was evident that opposition from GSI and other business groups would not be enough to stop the ordinance from getting passed, which it did by a margin of 6-1. Our approach was to state our opposition but work constructively with the Council to make improvements sought by our members and legal team. It paid off – just before the vote, the Council made several improvements to the ordinance at GSI’s request:

  • A 240-hour minimum threshold per calendar year before employers must comply with the ESSL ordinance;
  • Clarification that the ordinance does not apply to employers outside City limits whose employees work or attend meetings in Spokane, such as attendees at our new convention center;
  • And, most importantly, a commitment from the Council that GSI will have a seat at the table as the City works on how the ordinance will be implemented and enforced.

Defying the Mayor’s veto of ESSL last week, the Council voted this Monday to overturn the veto on a 5-1 vote. It means the ordinance will take effect a year from now, in January 2017. The City has until October 1 to work out details on how the ordinance will be enforced. GSI will be an active participant in that process.

Here are key provisions of the ordinance:

  • Requires most employers with 10 or more employees to provide up to 40 hours off per calendar year to deal with illness or domestic violence; 24 hours off for employers with fewer than 10 employees.
  • Beginning with their first day of employment, employees accrue leave at the rate of at least one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked.
  • Employers can require that new employees wait 90 days before they can begin using their paid leave.
  • Applies to all employers in the City of Spokane who employ workers who physically perform more than 240 hours of work within the City of Spokane.
  • Does not apply to work-study students, independent contractors or seasonal workers, or those employed by firms engaged in “construction work” as defined in WAC 296-155-012.
  • Employers can comply with the ordinance by allowing shift-swapping or the use of personal time off.
  • Employers must maintain records, consistent their usual and customary business practices, of each employee’s earned sick and safe leave accrual and use, for three years.
  • Violations of the ordinance will be a Class 1 civil infraction. The Spokane Municipal Code contains a process for hearings on civil infractions.
  • The ordinance does not give employees a private right of action for violations of this law.

We will be soliciting feedback from GSI members about how this ordinance will impact your personnel policies, then working with the City and our legal counsel to develop a model ordinance that you can use to make sure you are complying with the new ordinance. We will keep you informed as this is developed, and report the progress of our work on implementation and enforcement issues.

–Erik Poulsen, GSI Public Policy Director



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