Arizona and Washington Voters Approve Paid-Sick-Leave Measures

Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP By Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP November 15, 2016
Arizona and Washington Voters Approve Paid-Sick-Leave Measures

Voters in Arizona and Washington approved ballot measures that will require employers to offer paid sick leave to workers beginning in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

The two states join Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, Oregon and Vermont in offering statewide paid-sick-leave programs. And a wave of similar ordinances has swept through cities and counties across the country.

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: Paid sick leave: What are the requirements of the California paid sick leave law?]

The patchwork of laws can be frustrating for multistate employers and even for businesses in one state that are covered by more than one local law, said Catharine Morisset, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Seattle.

Existing Laws:
Statewide and city/county
Nov. Ballot Measures:
Some paid sick leave laws have passed, but have not yet taken effect. Source:
Click on a state for more information about its paid sick leave laws.


Beginning on July 1, 2017, businesses in Arizona with 15 or more employees must provide workers with up to 40 hours of accrued annual paid sick leave. Businesses with fewer employees will have to provide 24 hours.

In each scenario, employees will accrue the time at a rate of one hour per 30 hours worked until they reach the cap.

Nearly all private employers, as well as municipalities, in the state will be covered, explained Tibor Nagy, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Tucson, Ariz.

He noted that full-time, part-time and temporary employees will be eligible to accrue the paid sick leave.

State and federal employees will not be covered, however, and there are some exceptions for employees who are subject to collective bargaining agreements.

There is also a limited exemption for businesses that have annual gross revenues of less than $500,000 and are not engaged in interstate commerce.

Nagy noted, however, that very few businesses are not engaged in interstate commerce or the production of goods for interstate commerce.

The time off will be available for employees to address their own or a family member's medical care, for a public health emergency, or for domestic violence issues.

Employers can't discipline workers who take accrued leave in accordance with the law or retaliate against employees who report perceived violations of the law.

This presents yet another factor for employers to consider before disciplining or terminating an employee, Nagy said.

Employers should understand the various requirements of the law and update their policies and practices so they are ready to roll out their paid-sick-leave programs by July 1, 2017.


Beginning in January 2018, employees in Washington state will accrue an hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours they work.

Employees may use the time to address their own or a family member's medical care, to cover lost wages if the employee's place of business or a child's school closes for health-related reasons, or for domestic violence issues.

They will also be entitled to carry over up to 40 hours of accrued but unused leave to the next year.

In addition to the new statewide law in Washington, there are existing citywide ordinances in Seattle and Tacoma, and a Spokane law is scheduled to take effect in 2017.

There is also an ordinance specifically for hospitality and transportation workers in the city of SeaTac—a small area around the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Employers in Washington may be wondering if they can now just follow the state law and ignore the city laws, Morisset said, but "the answer is no."

Employers have to comply with the provisions that are the most favorable to employees, she said.

Sometimes that might be the state law, and sometimes that might be the local law.

For example, Seattle has a tiered system as follows:


Tier 1: Small Employer

Tier 2: Midsize Employer

Tier 3: Large Employer

Number of full-time equivalent employees




Accrual rate

1 hour per 40 hours worked

1 hour per 40 hours worked

1 hour per 30 hours worked

Carryover to next year

40 hours

56 hours

72 hours (or 108 hours for employers with paid-time-off plans)

The statewide law will only provide the level of benefits offered in Seattle's first tier, Morisset explained. Therefore, midsize and large employers in Seattle will still have to offer the more generous provisions under the citywide law.

However, Seattle's law is less favorable to employees in some ways. For example, employers don't have to let new employees use their accrued time off until they've been employed for 180 days, whereas the statewide measure permits employees to begin using the time after 90 days.

Because this aspect of the statewide law is more generous to employees, Seattle employers will need to follow state law in that regard, noted Bryan O'Connor, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in Seattle.

The various sick-leave rules are complex and confusing, especially when businesses have to comply with more than one law, Morisset said. Employers should review their policies with counsel to ensure they are in compliance with each law that impacts their workforce.


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