• City of Tacoma QA
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FAQs for Employers

Does the ordinance affect my company if I already offer employees at least 24 hours or more paid time off?

No, provided that it meets all the requirements of the ordinance, including:

  • Employees accrue at least one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked
  • Paid leave is limited to no less than 24 hours in a calendar year
  • Use is allowed for the reasons stated in the ordinance
  • Employees can carry over at least 24 hours of accrued but unused leave to the next calendar year
  • The employer meets the noticing and record keeping requirements in the ordinance.

You can find a checklist for evaluating your paid time off program here.


Will the ordinance apply to collective bargaining units?

Yes, paid leave requirements apply to workers in collective bargaining units unless the requirements of the ordinance are expressly and clearly waived in the collective bargaining agreement.

How will the ordinance be enforced?

Enforcement of the ordinance is the responsibility of the director of Finance. Educational opportunities and support are available to businesses to ensure they have the information they need to be compliant with the new law. Click here to request training or call us at (253) 591-5306. Employers will be required to certify compliance with the ordinance when they apply for and renew their business license every year. Other than the annual certification, enforcement of the ordinance will generally be complaint based.

Can I require paid sick leave to be used in blocks of four hours at a time?

Yes, you can establish a written policy specifying a reasonable minimum increment of time for use of paid leave subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act. If you do not establish a minimum use policy, accrued paid leave time may be used in hourly increments for employees covered by the overtime requirements of the FLSA.

Are there any restrictions on the use of paid leave time?

Yes, employers are not required to allow employees to use any accrued paid leave time until 180 calendar days after their hire date. Employers are not required to allow employees to use more than 24 hours of paid leave in the first calendar year or 40 hours of paid leave time in subsequent years (if the employee has carried over unused time). Employers are not required to allow employees to use paid leave for any reasons other than what is specified in the ordinance. Employers are not required to allow use of paid leave for shifts that are outside of Tacoma city limits.

What if I offer extra pay in lieu of benefits? Am I required to provide additional paid leave under this ordinance?

Premium Pay Programs (also known as “pay in-lieu of benefits”) must be approved by the Finance director of the City of Tacoma to ensure compliance. Employers with an approved Premium Pay Program may provide extra pay instead of paid leave benefits. Applications can be submitted online. They must be submitted at least 90 days in advance of the intended start date.

Can I choose to front load paid leave hours for my employees rather than using an accrual system?

Yes, nothing in the ordinance precludes businesses from front loading paid leave hours for employees and allowing them to use the hours in advance of accrual. Employers who front load hours are still subject to the carry over provision in the ordinance and must allow carryover of up to 24 hours of paid leave at the end of each year. The terms and conditions established by the employer shall state what happens if the employee is discharged or terminates employment prior to accruing paid leave equal to the amount of paid leave time advanced by the employer.

Do I have to pay employees for any unused paid sick time?

No, nothing in the ordinance requires businesses to allow employees to cash out unused paid leave time, even if their employment is terminated.

What are the requirements for notifying employees of how much paid leave time they have available?

You may choose any reasonable system for providing notification. One example might be to list available hours on employees’ pay stubs.

Can I require documentation from employees to verify the reason they are using their paid leave?

Yes, documentation can be required for use of paid leave as long as a written policy is provided and available to Employees outlining the requirements for submitting documentation. Acceptable forms of documentation must include a personally signed statement by the employee that he or she is using paid leave for a qualifying absence.

Is there a certain time period that an employer can require the documentation to be submitted by the employee?

A reasonable amount of time can be established for employees to submit documentation of their leave (e.g., prior to the end of the pay period the paid leave was used) and should be clearly stated in a written policy that is available to employees.

I have an employee with a child in Tacoma Public School District. Can they use their paid leave for school closures, such as snow days or weather related late starts?

Yes, the ordinance requires that employees be able to use their leave “to be able to care for a child whose school or place of care has been closed by order of a public official.” Because the decision to close schools for weather is made by the superintendent, this a qualified reason to use paid leave. Regularly scheduled closures, such as school breaks or holidays, are not covered by the Paid Leave Ordinance.

If an employee works in multiple cities, including Tacoma, is the employer required to allow an Employee to use their accrued paid leave for a scheduled shift in another city?


I have an employee who begins at 5 p.m. and works for me as a host through dinner rush. He doesn’t have a set end time for his shift. How do I calculate how many hours of paid leave he receives if he is sick and cannot work his shift?

You have multiple options for estimating the length of the shift and the number of hours to pay: 1. If someone replaced the host for the shift, you could use the number of hours worked by the replacement; 2. You can use the number of hours that a host typically works on that night of the week; or 3. You could use the number of hours that a host would typically work on a night with a similar amount of sales.

I chose to pay out the balance of an employee’s accrued paid leave time to them upon separation of employment. Do I have any obligation to reinstate any paid leave time if they are rehired within six months?

No, you do not have to reinstate accrued leave that has been cashed out; however, the ordinance requires employers to allow employees to carry over unused time. If you choose to allow payment at separation, your policy must provide employees the option of either cashing out accrued time or leaving their banked hours to potentially be reinstated if they are rehired within six months within the same benefit year.

I own a hotel with a kitchen that prepares food for room service. Do I qualify as an “eating and/or drinking establishment” under the ordinance?

Yes, this definition applies to all places where food or beverages are prepared and sold at retail for immediate consumption, either on- or off-site. This might also apply to grocery stores and gas stations that prepare and sell ready-to-eat foods. These establishments may offer, but not require employees to accept, special types of substitute shifts that were intended to allow tipped employees to make up income from gratuities.

The rules require that the employer and employee both agree when there is a shift swap or substitute shift to make up hours. Do I need to get this agreement in writing?

No, getting the agreement in writing is not a requirement; however, should questions arise about the nature of an arrangement, a signed agreement may serve as an accurate reflection of the interest and intentions of all involved parties.

When does the three-year period for record keeping begin?

New records are created when an employee works hours in Tacoma, earns leave, and/or uses leave. Each new record should be kept for three years.

I am considering a Premium Pay Program and would like to offer the extra pay as a monthly bonus. Is that allowed under the ordinance?

Yes, Premium Pay Programs that provide extra pay on a monthly basis will be considered. Proposed Premium Pay Programs must be submitted to the Finance director for review at least 90 days before the intended start date. Premium pay must meet or exceed the value of the paid leave benefit outlined in the ordinance and be dispersed at regular intervals or front loaded.

I provide a Paid Time Off (PTO) policy that is more generous than the Paid Leave Ordinance. If my employees use all of their accrued time for vacation and do not leave any "cushion" for paid leave, will I have to provide additional paid time off if they get sick?

No, employees can choose to use their paid time off for any reason permitted in an employer’s PTO policy. Once an employee uses all of their paid time off, they do not have a right to additional paid leave.

I front load and provide 40 hours of paid leave to each of my employees at the beginning of each year. Do I have to allow employees to carry over hours that they do not use into the next year?

Yes, the ordinance requires employers to allow employees to carry over up to 24 hours of unused paid leave into the new benefit year.

How can I determine if someone is an employee, a contractor, or an employer?

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries can assist you. Visit lni.wa.gov to learn more. The Small Business Liaison at Washington State Department of Labor and Industries is an additional resource for answers to questions about small businesses. Call (800) 987-0145 or visit smallbusiness.lni.wa.gov .


If an employee works in multiple cities, including Tacoma, and I offer a Premium Pay Program in lieu of paid leave, would the premium pay apply to all of the employee’s shifts?

No, Premium Pay Programs are designed by employers, and you can design and propose Premium Pay that applies only to shifts worked in Tacoma.

I understand that employees are able to carry over up to 24 hours of accrued but unused paid leave time to the next year. If an employee earns 24 hours of paid leave in the new year, their total balance of hours could be 48 hours…but doesn’t the law limit use of leave to 40 hours?

Yes, the law provides for:

  1. The ability for employees to carry over of up to 24 hours of accrued but unused time;
  2. The ability for employees to earn 24 new hours in each calendar year;
  3. The right of employers to limit use of paid leave to 40 hours in a benefit year.

This means that an employee could run into a scenario where they have 48 hours accrued, but their use is limited to just 40 hours. In this scenario, the employee would be able to carry over the additional 8 hours and start the next benefit year with some time available to them for health, safety, and some kinds of family care. Below is a table that illustrates how this could play out year-to-year:

  Beginning Balance Hours Earned Hours Used End of Year Balance Carried Over to Next Year


     0   24   0   24   24
2017     24   24   0   48   24
2018     24   24  40    8    8
2019      8   24  10   22   22


Example above based on minimum accrual, use, and carry over limits set by the Ordinance. More generous policies are permitted.  


Still Have Questions?

More information is available in the Paid Leave Ordinance and Paid Leave Rules. Additional questions can be sent via email or (253) 591-5306.