National Consumers League

This holiday season, a present for DC’s workers: Part 2

Second in a two-part series examining the new worker protection bills just passed by DC City Council.

Earned Sick and Safe Leave Amendment Act of 2013 (bill text) -- extends protections to 20,000+ new workers and boosts enforcement to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of workers already covered are actually able to get the leave they earn under the law. 

The bill as a whole will go into effect once funds for implementation are included in DC’s spring 2014 budget.

Covering Tipped Restaurant Workers

First and foremost, the bill extends paid sick days to tipped restaurant workers, who were carved out by an amendment when the original Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act passed in 2008. The bill guarantees that these workers will receive their normal base wage or the full minimum wage (currently $8.25) for each hour of leave they use, whichever is higher. They will accrue one hour of paid leave for every 43 hours worked, up to five days per year.

No More Year of Waiting for Leave

Current law allows employers to wait a whole year before letting their employees accrue even a single sick day. The bill would guarantee that workers in all industries can start earning sick days from their first day on the job and could start using them after 90 days and would close a loophole where workers could be fired and then rehired in order to cancel their accrued leave. Especially in high turnover industries like child-care, cleaning, security, construction, and restaurants, these changes are huge victories.

Real Enforcement Mechanisms

The bill includes some of the best enforcement mechanisms in the country for any paid leave bill. Employees who are denied paid sick days will get to choose between filing an administrative claim with the DC Office of Wage-Hour or suing in court. Either way, in addition to any lost pay for the days they took off, they would be owed $500 in damages for each day they were forced to work instead of taking leave they had earned, interest for pay owed, reinstatement if they were fired or demoted for taking leave, and attorneys fees and court costs to help enable them to bring a claim.

Workers will have three years to file a claim and longer if their employer failed to post the required notice of paid sick leave rights. Businesses will be required to keep records of hours worked and leave accrued for at least that long and, if they fail to keep required records, employees’ testimony about the failure to be paid leave will be presumed true. The District government will also be able to assess enforcement costs and $1000 or higher civil penalties for violations as well as suspend business licenses until the violations are cured.

To encourage employees to come forward and speak out about violations, the bill includes strong retaliation protections not only when workers file official complaints, but also when they advocate for their rights directly to their supervisor, share information during an investigation, or share information about the right to sick leave with their co-workers.

Public Education

Finally, the bill provides for a public education campaign to ensure workers and employers know about the new law and how to comply with it.