BELLINGHAM — A new year, a new wage hike.
On Jan. 1, the next phase of the Washington minimum wage law goes into effect. Employers will now have to pay workers at least $11.50 per hour, as well as provide paid sick leave. The new minimum wage is a 50-cent increase, relatively small compared to the beginning of 2017, when it shot up from $9.47 to $11.
The paid sick leave requirement is new. All workers, full-, part-time and seasonal, will accrue at least one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked. It must be paid at their normal hourly wage. Workers can use that paid leave if they get sick or if they need to care for a sick family member, if their workplace or child’s school or childcare is closed for a health-related reason, or to flee a domestic violence situation.
Eric Grimstead, of the Small Business Development Center, has been helping small businesses through the process of implementing this new phase of the law, Initiative 1433, which Washington voters passed in 2016.
The center, part of Western Washington University, advises local small businesses. Grimstead has been helping clients break down the numbers for the
“The smartest thing to do is look at the real dollar and cents impact of what might be the maximum exposure,” Grimstead said. He recommends that businesses build it into their budgets assuming employees will take their maximum sick leave.
“Prepare for the worst case scenario,” he said. “And then if it winds up being slightly different than that, then you’re going to be better off.”
It’s possible that employees might not use all their sick leave. Grimstead said it’s common that employees don’t use all of their sick days. After calculating how much it could cost, Grimstead said, business owners need to look at where that money is going to come from, whether they can streamline their business somehow or raise prices.
“Paid sick leave and other mandates are beyond the control of the business owner,” Grimstead said. “But there are plenty of things they can do that are within the business operations.”
Grimstead said he doesn’t know whether the sick leave will help or hurt business’ bottom line.
“The assumption is if people are sick they’re not going to show up for work,” he said.
That’s not always true, however. Some workers may not be able to afford any loss in pay, and come in to work even when they’re sick. That could mean a loss in productivity. They might also spread their sickness to the other employees, eventually leading them to lose productivity or take time off as well.