UW News

August 7, 2018

Evans School to study effects of Seattle’s sick leave ordinance

UW News

How is Seattle’s law requiring paid sick leave affecting take-home pay for the city’s workers and productivity for its businesses?

Hilary Wething, a doctoral student in the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Policy & Governance, has received a $15,000 grant from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a nonprofit organization, to examine the new policy’s effects.

“I hope to learn whether Seattle workers’ have experienced any changes in their employment or take home pay” as a result of the ordinance, Wething said.

In September of 2012, the Seattle City Council enacted its Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance, which requires that employers provide their workers at least one hour of time off for every 30-40 hours worked. Workers can use the time for illness, medical appointments or critical care issues for themselves or a family member. The policy covers all workers within the city limits, including those of a part-time or temporary status.

Wething’s study seeks to learn three main things:

  • How the new law has affected earnings, hours, employment levels and pay volatility of workers
  • How much workers are affected by changes in hours versus job turnover resulting from the new law
  • Whether these effects vary for workers in companies of different size and type, or for workers in different employment and industry sub-groups

Wething noted that the ordinance is intended in part to improve productivity by reducing workers’ exposure to infectious diseases — so she hopes to learn whether workers are indeed “more economically productive” as a result of the law.

As with any new policy, she noted, some employers may not be able to cover the costs of the ordinance and may reduce employment as a result.

“To this end I hope to learn whether or not employers passed down of the cost of the policy to workers by cutting hours or employment levels as a result of the policy,” Wething said.

Wething will use state Unemployment Insurance Program records for her research, through an agreement with the Washington State Employment Security Department. These records show quarterly earnings and hours information for every employer and employee in Washington eligible for unemployment insurance between the years 2005 and 2017.

The Washington Center for Equitable Growth, based in Washington, D.C., is a nonprofit research organization dedicated to advancing “evidence-backed ideas and policies that promote strong, stable and broad-based economic growth.” Its stated mission also is to build bridges between academics and policymakers, “so that new research is relevant, accessible and informative to the policymaking process.”

Wething’s was one of two dozen grants totaling about $900,000 announced by the center on July 25 to assist in study, at many institutions, of how economic inequality affects economic growth and stability.

She said: “Seattle has been a leader in workplace policy, and its early adoption of a paid sick leave policy provides a great opportunity to study the policy’s short- and medium-run effects on workers and share these results with the rest of the research and policy community. I hope these finding can contribute to current policy discourse immediately.”

Wething expects to share her findings by early winter.


For more information, contact Wething at hwething@uw.edu.