Local businesses bone up on new sick leave rules

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Rodney Harwood/Columbia Basin Herald Steven Jensen, left, and David Enquist, of CliftonLarsonAllen Wealth Management, listen to local business representatives after a seminar addressing new regulations on paid sick leave at the ATEC Building at Big Bend Community College on Tuesday.

MOSES LAKE — The critical message coming out of this week’s business seminar on implementing the upcoming changes to paid sick leave requirements under Initiative 1433 - document everything.

Initiative 1433 will increase state revenues, and state and local government expenditures, during the next six fiscal years, according to ballotpedia.org. State revenues will increase due to employers making Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund tax payments on higher wages. State General Fund expenditures would decrease in the first four fiscal years, but increase in the fifth and sixth fiscal years.

Initiative 1433 was designed to increase the state's minimum wage to $13.50 by Jan. 1, 2020. After that, the minimum wage will be tacked to increases in the cost of living. The measure also requires employers to provide all employees with paid sick leave, which was the topic of the CliftonLarsonAllen sponsored event at the ATEC Building at Big Bend Community College.

An estimated 65 business owners and representatives from over 50 companies from across eastern Washington attended to find some sort of clarity to the upcoming changes to the way they do business. 

“Typically, business owners don’t have paid sick leave budgeted for part-timers, but most of them have been granting sick leave to full-time and salaried employees,” Moses Lake Chamber of Commerce director Debbie Doran-Martinez said. “The companies want to do the right thing by the employees, but what’s hard is the rippling effect of layering of adjustment on minimum wage. Now there’s the paid leave and next year we’re going to roll in paid medical leave.

“Biggest question answered today was ‘How do you want us to track this?’ There’s going to be a lot of trees chopped down over the next several years, because the experts are saying document everything.”

The new paid sick leave requirements under Initiative 1433 state that an employee must work 90 days to be eligible, then they will accrue one hour sick leave for every 40 hours worked. In his presentation, David Enquist, an accountant with CliftonLarsonAllen, outlined practical to-dos under the new guidelines for business owners moving forward.

One of the biggest impacts will come in the agriculture industry where a lot of times a seasonal worker might only work three or four months in a single session, then return the following year where they are treated as a new hire. Under the new guidelines, seasonal workers who work, for example 60 days, move on, then return the next season, will now pick up from that 60-day point and build on that. Once they reach the 90-day mark, they are entitled to paid sick leave.

Farming and orchard operations are now being asked to be able to account for returning seasonal workers, as well as part-time and full-time employees.

“I would venture to say most companies in the Columbia Basin don’t have paid sick leave in place,” Enquist said. “The big change is the administrative time and cost of tracking it. They have to designate someone within their operation or hire someone to take care of it.

“If you’re looking at what it’s going to cost your business, there’s going to be the extra administration cost of tracking, and also the cost of paying the employee to be gone and the cost of paying someone to cover that shift.”

Unused sick leave is designed to roll over to the following year. For leave lasting more than three consecutive days, the measure authorizes employers to ask for proof that an employee's leave would be for authorized purposes.

“The biggest thing we tried to bring across today is to be aware of any rules and some of the steps that can be taken between now and what you can do to get ready for when it takes effect,” Enquist said.

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