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Published on Monday, June 2, 2014

New law mandating two unpaid days of leave takes effect June 12

The Legislature passed SB 5173 which provides two days per year of unpaid leave for public employees for reasons of faith or conscience. The intent of the bill was to accommodate individuals for whom traditional State recognized holidays do not correspond to their faith. The bill passed the Senate unanimously, and had strong bipartisan support in the House.

This bill takes effect June 12, and will require public employers to provide employees up to two unpaid days of leave for reasons of faith or conscience, unless it creates an undue hardship for the employer. The State Office of Financial Management (OFM) is tasked with developing the definition of undue hardship. The two unpaid days do not accumulate, and must be used during the calendar year per the terms of each jurisdictions’ personnel policies. MRSC developed a model policy to assist cities with implementing the new law.

OFM has issued the following about their process for developing the definition of undue hardship:

WHO: All state agencies, political subdivisions, including school districts and institutions of higher education, including community and technical colleges.

WHAT: SSB 5173 Respecting Holidays of Faith and Conscience Act – Definition of “Undue Hardship.”

WHEN:Emergency definition will be effective June 12, 2014.

Substitute Senate Bill 5173 passed during the 2014 Legislative session. This bill grants two unpaid holidays per calendar year to all employees of the State and its political subdivisions, including school districts and nonclassified employees of institutions of higher education who hold appointments or are employed under contracts to perform services for periods of less than 12 consecutive months, and employees of public institutions of higher education to include community colleges, technical colleges and workforce training programs. These unpaid holidays are for a reason of faith or conscience or an organized activity conducted under the auspices of a religious denomination, church or religious organization.

The bill allows employees to select the days on which the employee desires to take the two unpaid holidays after consultation with the employer, pursuant to rules or ordinances promulgated by the appropriate personnel authority. The employer must allow the employee to take the unpaid holidays on the dates selected by the employee unless the employee’s absence would impose an undue hardship on the employer or the employee’s position is necessary to maintain public safety. The bill states that the Office of Financial Management (OFM) will establish in rule the definition of “undue hardship.”

The effective date of the legislation is June 12, 2014. Under RCW 34.05.350, OFM will adopt on an emergency basis a definition of “undue hardship,” which will be effective June 12, 2014. You will receive a communication with the definition by June 2, 2014. OFM will conduct permanent rule making for this definition; stakeholder input will be included.

Please contact Kristie Wilson at 360-902-0483 or kristie.wilson@ofm.wa.gov with questions.

As OFM develops the definition of undue hardship, cities are encouraged to provide comments and suggestions. AWC will continue to follow the implementation of this new requirement, and provide more information as it develops.

Categories: Personnel