Emergency Rule: Seattle Employers Cannot Ask For Doctor’s Notes For Paid Sick Time
Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards just issued a temporary emergency rule that prohibits employers from requesting a doctor’s note to verify employees’ use of paid sick leave under Seattle’s Paid Sick and Safe Time (PSST) ordinance. The emergency rule is in effect from April 8 until June 7, 2020, unless it is revoked earlier or extended through formal rulemaking.
Before this emergency rule took effect, the PSST ordinance allowed employers to ask for “reasonable verification from a health care provider after employees were absent more than three consecutively scheduled workdays.” But the law also provided that such verification may not impose an “unreasonable burden or expense on the employee.” Under the emergency rule, the City decided that requiring such verification is an unreasonable burden during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the temporary rule, it is irrelevant whether the employee is claiming COVID-19-related illness. Employers must now give employees alternative methods for verifying use of PSST for sick leave reasons, regardless of the reason for the sick leave.
In lieu of doctor’s notes, Seattle encourages employers to be as flexible as possible. The rule suggests accepting the employee’s own statement or documentation from other service providers, such as social workers, case managers, or legal advocates.
Although the emergency rule is arguably based on sound policy — the healthcare system is certainly overburdened with COVID-19 issues and employees may be unable to see a healthcare provider for non-critical illnesses — its immediate implementation with no advance notice creates a trap for well-meaning businesses.
Nevertheless, it is incumbent on Seattle employers to heed this new rule. The City has aggressively enforced its PSST ordinances to date, and violations of the law – including the emergency rule – carry stiff penalties: up to $546.07 for a first violation of the PSST ordinance, $1,092.13 for a second violation, and $5,462.70 for a third or subsequent violation.
Employers should proceed cautiously regarding paid sick and safe leave usage, and keep this new rule in mind as well as other changes made to address this crisis. We will continue to monitor the rapidly developing COVID-19 situation and provide updates as appropriate. Make sure you are subscribed to Fisher Phillips’ Alert System to get the most up-to-date information. For further information, contact your Fisher Phillips attorney, any attorney in our Seattle office, or any member of our COVID-19 Taskforce. You can also review our nationwide Comprehensive and Updated FAQs for Employers on the COVID-19 Coronavirus and our FP Resource Center For Employers, maintained by our Taskforce.
This Legal Alert provides an overview of a specific city law. It is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal advice for any particular fact situation.