The United States is facing an unprecedented pandemic of the highly contagious Coronavirus. Restaurant and hospitality workers in our nation's capital are at particular risk because of the high number of individuals with whom they interact each day. Although there is no federal law requiring private businesses to compensate workers for time off due to illness, the Washington D.C. Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act requires employers - including restaurants and bars - to provide paid sick leave.
When an employer violates the Act, employees are often left with no choice but to come to work ill because missing time off may mean losing their homes, cars, childcare, or health insurance. As the Coronavirus threat looms, Washington, D.C. workers should understand their right to paid sick leave and the legal recourses they can pursue when an employer fails to comply with the law.
Workers in D.C. Are Entitled to Paid Sick Leave
The Washington D.C. Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act (ASSLA) was enacted in 2008 and expanded by the Earned Sick and Safe Leave Amendment Act of 2013. ASSLA requires employers to extend paid sick leave based on the number of workers they employ:
- An employer of 100 or more employees must provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 37 hours worked, up to seven days per year
- An employer with 25 to 99 workers must provide one hour of paid leave for every 43 hours worked, not to exceed five days per calendar year
- An employer with 24 or fewer employees must provide one hour of paid leave for every 87 hours worked, not to exceed three days per calendar year.
Regardless of the employer's size, tipped workers at restaurants or bars must be given paid sick leave for every 43 hours worked. The employer must pay the paid sick leave at the full minimum wage and not the reduced tipped minimum wage.
Employees begin accruing paid sick leave from the beginning of their employment and may access their paid sick leave after 90 days of employment. They may use paid sick leave for:
- Physical or mental illness, injury, or medical conditions;
- To obtain a medical diagnosis or preventive care;
- To care for a child, a parent, a spouse, domestic partner, or any other family member with a medical condition or needs a diagnosis; and
- An absence if the employee or the employee's family member is a victim of stalking, domestic violence, or sexual abuse.
Employees Must Notify Employers
If the absence is foreseen, ASSLA requires employees to provide written notification ten days in advance, or as early as possible. Where the leave is unforeseeable, the employee must give oral notice at the start of the work shift. If an emergency occurs, the employee must notify the employer at the beginning of the shift or within 24 hours after the onset of the emergency, whichever happens first.
Your employer may ask you for "reasonable certification" that you are sick when you return to work after taking three or more consecutive days of paid leave. Reasonable certification may include a signed note from a health care provider affirming your illness.
Remedies Available to Workers Where an Employer Violates ASSLA
When a Washington, D.C. employer fails to extend paid sick leave to a worker, the employee is entitled to $500 of "additional damages" for each accrued day, whether or not the employee took unpaid leave or reported to work.
ASSLA subjects an employer who willfully violates the Act to these penalties:
- $1,000 per each affected employee for the first offense
- $1,500 per each affected employee for the second offense
- $2,000 per each affected employee for the third and each subsequent offense
Additionally, an employee unlawfully denied paid sick may recover:
- Back pay for lost wages;
- Job reinstatement (if the employer terminated, demoted, or took adverse action against the employee in conjunction with the sick leave);
- Compensatory, punitive, and other damages; and
- Reasonable attorney's fees and costs.
Talk to an Experienced D.C. Employment Attorney
Often, hourly and tipped workers feel vulnerable or helpless to stand up against their employees even though the law is on their side. What they may not know is that the law protects workers against retaliation in that situation.
If you or someone you know has been denied paid sick leave by a Washington, D.C. restaurant, bar, or another employer, you should seek help from an employment lawyer with particular experience in wage and overtime claims. To learn more about the rights of workers in the restaurant and hospitality industry, visit our dedicated web page.