DC Just Passed Great Minimum Wage and Paid Sick Days Bills. What’s in them?

Congratulations to all DC workers and to the advocates who helped push the DC Council to pass unanimously the Fair Minimum Wage Act and Earned Sick and Safe Leave Amendment Act of 2013 today without allowing the bills to be weakened by amendments.

Although news reports have shared some of the highlights of the worker protection bills just passed by the DC Council, here are some of the details, which weren’t always covered.

Minimum Wage Amendment Act of 2013 (click here for bill text)

The bill increases the minimum wage, which is currently $8.25, to $11.50 in three steps:

  • $9.50 on July 1, 2014
  • $10.50 on July 1, 2015
  • $11.50 on July 1, 2016

Just as importantly, starting on July 1, 2017 and every July 1 thereafter, the bill requires that the minimum wage be increased to reflect changes in the cost of living, as measured by the Consumer Price Index in the Washington Area. This will stop the real value of the minimum wage from declining over time, which is a big reason why we keep having to fight to raise it.

Finally, although the bill unfortunately does not raise the base minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers (which stands at a paltry $2.77 an hour and hopefully will be raised through other legislation), it does require that employers of tipped workers verify and certify every quarter that all of their employees do end up making at least the full minimum wage through a combination of their base wages and tips actually received. This will hopefully reduce one form of wage theft, which is common in the restaurant industry, where employees are not compensated when their tips are short for the week and don’t make up the difference between $2.77 and the full minimum wage.

Earned Sick and Safe Leave Amendment Act of 2013 (click here for bill text)

The bill extends protections to more than 20,000 new workers as well as beefing up enforcement to help ensure that the hundreds of thousands of workers already covered actually are 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 budget this Spring.

Covering Tipped Restaurant Workers

First and foremost, the bill extends the guarantee to cover 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 passed today 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 wins!

Real Enforcement Mechanisms

The bill includes some of the best enforcement mechanisms in the country for any paid leave bill. Employees who are denied sick days will get to choose between filing an administrative claim with the 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 comply with it.

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