Sick Leave Law in Washington State: Can Leave Be Cashed Out?

Posted by Alesha Struthers Jul 20, 2021

The sick leave law in Washington state changed in 2018. Employers have a duty to make sure that they understand and follow the law. In this second post of our series on the Washington state sick leave law, we are discussing whether employees can cash out their unused sick leave. If you're an employer, you'll also learn a little bit about the differences between sick leave in Washington state and in Seattle, how many hours of sick leave are accrued per week in Washington state according to the law, whether you can offer a sick leave buy back opportunity, and whether there are payroll apps you can use to help you manage the requirements of the Washington state sick leave law.

If you're interested in reading the first post in our series regarding the Washington state paid sick leave law, please click here.

This blog post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice for your business. To get specific legal advice for your business regarding the sick leave law in Washington state or Seattle, other employment law matters, or HR-related matters, schedule your free consultation to discuss your matter with the Law Offices of Alesha Struthers now.  

Sick Leave in Washington State

Sick leave in Washington state was changed in the interest of protecting and supporting the public interest. As we mentioned in our first post, the provides that employers are required to provide their employees with sick leave. An “employee” is defined by as any individual who is employed by an employer, including casual labor or employed in agricultural labor for less than 13 weeks per year.

With that said, Seattle's sick leave law is known as the Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance. It requires that a Seattle employer to provide their employees with sick leave to take care of themselves or a family member because of a physical or mental health issues, medical appointment, or critical safety matters. According to the Seattle Office of Labor Standards, employers who have employees who are eligible for overtime must comply with both Washington state's new sick leave law and Seattle's sick leave law. The biggest differences between the state's sick leave law and Seattle's laws involve medium and large employers. The Seattle Office of Labor Requirements provides a chart to highlight the differences.

Since this blog post focuses on sick leave and whether employees can sell their unused hours, we will not be discussing Seattle's sick leave laws in-depth. If you're an employer in Seattle and you have questions regarding the state or city laws, schedule your free consultation with the Law Offices of Alesha Struthers.

How Many Hours of Sick Leave Are Accrued Per Week in Washington State?

Washington state sick leave law requires that employees must be provided with one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours that they work. It does not matter if your employee is a full-time, part-time, temporary, or seasonal worker. A Washington state sick leave calculator of some kind can be very helpful because if your business has full-time employees, part-time employees, and employees who work overtime, you may find that it could be difficult to keep up with the time accrued.

Employees begin accruing sick leave on their first day of work. Their unused sick leave balances of 40 hours or less must be carried over to the next year.

Can Employees Cash Out Their Sick Leave?

Yes, under one specific circumstance. The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries simplifies the answer to this question. As an employer you have the option to offer a policy that allows a policy to cash out their sick leave that they have not used when they leave their job. Again, this is an optional policy under the Washington state sick leave law. The hours are paid at the employee's normal hourly rate.

Washington State Sick Law Leave Buy Back

Under the Washington state sick leave law, offering a buy back program is optional. If you're considering an unused sick leave buy back program for your employees, here are a few examples.

  • Northshore School District offers a sick leave buy back (as of June 2021). According to their website, they offer it as an incentive to encourage attendance. They compensate their employees with one day of pay for every four days of unused sick leave. As a school district, it is important to keep in mind that a collective bargaining agreement is also involved.
  • Tenino School District frontloads their sick leave for their teachers and also provides a sick leave buy back program. Their program is a bit different since they frontload sick leave for their teachers. They can either take money at their daily rate or add additional sick leave to their time bank for additional leave.
  • Pierce County also offers a sick leave buy back opportunity for county employees.

If you are considering a buy back program for unused sick leave, it can be very beneficial as a motivational tool for attendance. Make sure that you develop a policy in writing that is beneficial for you and also works well for your employees.

Payroll Apps for Washington State Sick Leave Law

As we pointed out in this post, all of your employees are eligible to begin accruing sick leave on their very first day of work regardless of whether they are a temporary, seasonal, part-time, or full-time worker. They accrue one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked for you.

In addition to tracking the hours accrued by each employee, you're also required to report the number of hours accrued as well as used by each employee. One of the best ways to do this is use a payroll app. A payroll app such as Quickbooks, Gusto, and Zenefits can help your business both sick leave and provide the information to your employees as often as required by the law.

Free Consult for Employers: Sick Leave Law in Washington State

The Law Offices of Alesha Struthers provides free consultations for employers who have questions the sick leave law in Washington state. It can be overwhelming and cause confusion for employers. To learn how sick leave applies to your business, schedule your free consultation now.

Disclaimer: This publication is not legal advice. It is intended as legal information only. For legal advice specific to your needs, contact the Law Offices of Alesha Struthers, PS at 800-972-0411.

Posted July 2021