Rollout of Seattle's $15 minimum wage is still half a year away, and Seattle's auditor says the city is already learning lessons about how to enforce workplace laws.
For the last two years, the city has required that businesses pay workers for days home sick. Enforcement was designed to go slowly for more than a year, so that employers had time to meet the requirements.
The auditor found that when workers complained that they did not receive sick pay, the city did not investigate their complaints. In a report presented to the Seattle City Council, the auditor said the city did write letters to urge employers’ compliance with the law. But it did not try to find out how many workers were affected, or how much sick time went unpaid.
“Without these steps there was no way to assess or calculate how much in back wages were owed to the employees,” Virginia Garcia, assistant auditor, told council members. “Or if the employer was in full compliance with the ordinance.”
The auditor said the city didn't check to make sure complainants actually got their back pay. Following the briefing, council members discussed the ramifications for Seattle’s eventual enforcement of a citywide $15 hourly minimum wage.
Councilmember Mike O’Brien said it's one thing to go soft on punishing employers, but it's another to not enforce the wages.
“It’s really critical that even in the early phases where we can go with a soft hand, we have to make sure that the employee is made whole,” he said.
Patricia Lally took over Seattle’s Office for Civil Rights in January. Since then the city has begun more proceedings against employers who are not paying sick leave, including four charges that did not come from worker complaints. She said she agrees with the auditor and has already been acting on the recommendations.
Lally also said she needs more investigators. She expects to know if the council will let her hire them by the end of next month.