Seattle's proposed sick-leave plan is problematic

So, you need more sick leave if you work for a larger company? Huh? And why would the city Office of Civil Rights suddenly be put in charge of enforcing a business regulation?

So, you need more sick leave if you work for a larger company? Huh? And why would the city Office of Civil Rights suddenly be put in charge of enforcing a business regulation?

We can all agree that every worker should have some amount of paid sick leave. Unfortunately, the proposal before the city council to mandate minimum sick leave requirements within the city of Seattle is problematic for several reasons.

First, the Seattle Office of Civil Rights should not be the agency in charge of regulating businesses. This role is already filled by the Department of Finance and Administration, which grants business licenses. They have the capacity, staff resources, and expertise to administer regulations.

Second, the premise that employees of larger businesses get sick for longer periods of time than employees of smaller businesses doesn’t make sense. If you are a business of 249 employees, the hiring of the 250th employee would force you to go from five mandated sick days per employee to nine days — for every employee. In other words, adding one employee would cost you the same as adding five FTEs. But, really, why is there a difference in sick leave between a 249-employee company and a 250-employee company?

Third, why are we proposing this now? With businesses struggling and the city of Seattle losing businesses to other cities in King County over the last decade, why would we propose a regulation that provides disincentives for businesses to hire more people and grow? This is a city with a jobs problem, one that has suffered job losses.

And finally, it is still an open question whether the city should jump into developing and regulating employment law, a role usually filled by the state. If this is a good idea, then it would also be a good idea for Seattle to have a higher minimum wage than the rest of the state. I don’t think you’d find many on the city council who would support doing this because they know (like sick leave mandates), the minimum wage is better addressed at a state level.

I don’t see a problem with mandating some level of sick leave for every working person in the state. And if some minimum is offered locally, it would probably be OK. I would hope that, someday, a national health care system — something the rest of the industrialized world takes for granted — would take the place of some of these local initiatives. That would be good for the health of our people and for the economy.

But the city council and mayor need to consider all of the unintended consequences and the sort of “mission creep” that can happen when governments open up new regulatory venues. And these concerns aside, they should at least create regulations that make sense. The need for sick days for an individual doesn’t increase — or decrease — with the size of the company.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Jordan Royer

Jordan Royer

Jordan Royer is the vice president for external affairs in the Seattle office of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association. 

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