Deadline looms for Seattle sick leave changes

SEATTLE -- At the Macy's store in Northgate, bra fitter Louisa Swenson has spent years getting to know her customers; measuring them, providing guidance, and offering expert advice.

The dressing rooms and close quarters she works in, however, often provide a dilemma for this career retail worker.

"There's a lot of close contact that you have with people," she said, "and so it's going to be nice that I won't have to come and be sneezing and coughing and trying to help them and making sure I'm not spreading my germs to them in this close fitting room together."

Swenson, of Mountlake Terrace, said she cheered Seattle's decision to mandate companies provide to their employees.

Under the change, which takes effect Saturday, businesses with more than four full-time equivalent employees must offer their workers at least five paid sick days a year. Companies must also offer paid "safe time" to allow workers to care for a family member or for reasons related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

The change hasn't been easy on some businesses, and many are trying to adjust before the new ordinance becomes law on Saturday. As a result, the city has been offering free workshops to the public, including on Tuesday night in West Seattle.

"There (were) lots of questions about how it was going to affect us," said Michael Goldsmith, a manager with Elliott Bay Brewing Company in West Seattle.

Goldsmith was one of about three dozen in attendance at the Tuesday night workshop, and said the shift impacts everything from accounting to human resources.

"(The owners of the company) are supportive of people being well and people coming to work and being safe," Goldsmith said, "but it is one more thing we have to track."

Opponents of the new ordinance have
expressed concern about added expenses to small businesses. Swenson, however, argues that the long-term benefits outweigh everything else.

"It just seems like a no-brainer," she said. "You don't want your people coming to work sick. You don't want them spreading it to the other employees."

Information about the new ordinance can be found here. Another free workshop is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at 3 pm at the Century Ballroom on Capitol Hill.