Washington Labor Laws

March 19th 2024

This article covers:

What are Washington Time Management Laws?

In the US, there are federal laws in place to manage the time spent by employees in the workplace, safeguarding their rights and guaranteeing fair pay for their efforts. These laws act as directives for employers, keeping them in check, and minimizing any forms of abuse or exploitation.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which dates back to 1938, is a critical federal law for time management, setting hourly wage rates and overtime pay, and requiring employers to keep an accurate record of their employees’ working hours. Overtime is pegged at 1.5 times the regular hourly rate for workers who exceed 40 hours a week. However, certain job categories, including executives, professionals, and administrative employees, are exempt from overtime pay depending on their job description and salary.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is another essential federal law that governs time management in the workplace, entitling eligible employees to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for specific family and medical reasons, such as the birth or adoption of a child or caring for a family member with a serious health condition. This act also requires employers to maintain employees’ health benefits during their leave and restore them to their previous or equivalent positions upon their return to work.

Employers who contravene federal time management laws face severe legal ramifications, including fines, back pay, and damages. If workers feel that their employer has violated federal time management laws, they can file complaints with the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division for investigation and legal action.

Overall, federal time management laws are instrumental in ensuring that workers are compensated fairly for their time and effort in the workplace, protecting them from abuse and exploitation by employers. The Fair Labor Standards Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act are vital federal laws that govern time management and worker compensation, ensuring fair labor practices across various sectors, including non-profit, public, and private organizations.

Washington Minimum Wage $16.28
Washington Overtime 1.5 times the rate of the standard wage
($24.42 for employees earning minimum wages)
Washington Break Laws Rest meals of at least 10 minutes for every 4 hours worked.
Employees must be provided with “reasonable time” for restroom breaks — employers are not permitted to include the restroom break during policy-scheduled breaks
Meal breaks of at least 30 minutes after working for 5 hours.

What are the Hiring, Working & Termination Laws in Washington?

Employers in Washington, when hiring, like in other states, are not allowed to discriminate against job candidates or employees based on factors such as:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Sex
  • Pregnancy
  • Marital or familial status
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation

It’s worth noting that Washington has an interesting law that protects those with disabilities (who have service animals) from discrimination by employers. Additionally, the Washington Equal Pay Act aims to combat gender pay gaps by forbidding employers from offering different salaries to employees who perform the same job and duties, based on their gender.

Washington doesn’t have a “right-to-work law” that would guarantee employees don’t have to join or be affiliated with a labor union. Employees in Washington are subject to the “Workplace Freedom” law, which requires union fees to be paid regardless of whether the employee chooses to participate in union-related activities.

In Washington, employers have the right to terminate the contract of employment without a specific reason, and employees can quit their jobs without facing legal consequences. However, if the employee is exercising a protected right, the termination will not be deemed legal. For example, the state law prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who make safety complaints, claim workers’ compensation, take protected leave or report violations of the Minimum Wage Act, Injured worker’s claim, Protected leave, and Equal Pay and Opportunities Act. If the employee is protected by any of these situations, the employer cannot terminate, suspend, demote or deny promotion, reduce hours or alter the schedule, reduce the rate of pay, or subject the employee to discipline. Additionally, employers cannot threaten to take action based on the immigration status of employees or their family members.

When an employee is lawfully terminated, the employer must pay all owed wages on the first regular payday. If the employee is unable to collect the wages in person, they can request that the wages be sent by mail. It is the employer’s responsibility to agree to this request. However, the state law does not provide any details on how wages should be paid to employees who are terminated due to legal proceedings or strike actions. In such cases, company policies will take effect.

What Are the Key Labor Laws in Washington?

Now, we will discuss some key labor laws in Washington that may not be related to the categories we have previously explored. Some of these regulations include:

  • COBRA Law – The federal law, known as the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), provides employees with the right to continue their group health benefits for up to 36 months following both voluntary and involuntary job loss. In Washington state, COBRA applies to companies with over 20 employees. However, it’s worth noting that the state of Washington does not have an approved mini-COBRA plan for businesses with under 20 employees.
  • OSHA Law – Every state in the US follows the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. OSHA’s primary aim is to guarantee that workers operate in safe and hazard-free conditions. Additionally, it seeks to prevent work-related injuries that can arise from substandard health protocols. OSHA identifies six distinct types of dangers in the workplace, which include biological, chemical, work organization, safety, physical, and ergonomic. In the state of Washington, two federally-approved programs collaborate with OSHA. These programs are Washington Industrial Safety and Health Administration (WISHA) and Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH). Washington Industrial Safety and Health Administration (WISHA) imposes additional rules to provide a safe working atmosphere to employees. Department of Labor and Industries (L & I) from DOSH, is accountable for examining work environments to identify and report any anomalies. DOSH also offers training programs to all personnel and provides numerous optional safety courses alongside compulsory programs commanded by federal regulations.
  • Background Check Law – In Washington State, the ban-the-box law has been fully implemented. This means that employers, whether public or private, are not allowed to inquire about a candidate’s criminal history during interviews or employment. The city of Seattle has similar regulations but allows employers to ask about criminal history after the initial screening for a job.
  • Whistleblower Law – In Washington state, employees are encouraged to report criminal activities that take place on their workplace premises without fear of retaliation, in accordance with the state’s whistleblowing policies. These policies ensure that no employee will be harassed, threatened, or fired for refusing to take part in illegal activities, violating federal or state laws, reporting workplace misconduct, or participating in an investigation concerning workplace violations.
  • Salary History Law – While workers have the option to reveal their pay and earnings history, it is illegal for an employer to ask for it during the hiring process or to demand that an applicant’s previous wages meet a certain standard. Violating this law could result in penalties.
  • Social Media Law – Washington state law prohibits employers from asking employees for their social media account details, including usernames, passwords and authentication information under the pretext of “assessment”. Employers who breach this law can face penalties.

What are Washington Payment Laws?

The state of Washington has been working to improve the minimum wage for some time now. This effort dates back to 1961, when the state first began regulating minimum wage rates. Since then, the state has continued to update and adjust these rates on an annual basis. There are three key laws in place for minimum wage in Washington: the state minimum wage rate, the tipped hourly wage rate, and the subminimum wage rate.

What is the Minimum Payment in Washington?

The minimum wage in Washington is $16.28. Each year, the state government is required to adjust the minimum wage to reflect the changes in the cost of living. The current rate is a result of this yearly adjustment. However, it should be noted that there are different minimum wage laws for the following two cities: Seattle and SeaTec. In Seattle, the minimum wage is $19.97 for employers with at least 501 employees or a varying hourly rate for employers with 500 or less employees. Meanwhile, in SeaTec, the minimum wage for Hospitality and Transportation Industry employees is $19.71 per hour. These rates will remain in effect until the next change goes into effect on December 31st.

In Washington state, it’s the law for all employers to pay their tipped workers the minimum wage rate, no matter how much in tips they make. As a result, tipped employees are eligible for a wage of $16.28/hr, which supersedes the usual The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) rule of $2.13/hr.  

What are the Exceptions for Minimum Payment in Washington?

Washington is one of the states in the United States that has certain exceptions to the minimum wage as stipulated by both federal and state laws. These exceptions are applicable to different categories of workers. Federal law lists several categories that are exempt from minimum wage, including:

  • Executives
  • Administrative workers, learned and creative professionals, computer employees
  • Highly compensated employees
  • Outside salespeople
  • Minors

Similarly, the state of Washington abides by the same rules, but with distinct interpretations when it comes to professions and exceptions described in the federal law since these may vary because of differences in salaries and job requirements.

Generally, employees in Washington are entitled to the state minimum wage. Employers can also request to pay certain workers subminimum wage rates under specific circumstances such as disability, learners, student learners, student workers, and apprentices. The subminimum wages are $13.84/hr for learners, $12.21/hr for student learners, $12.21/hr for student workers, and $12.21/hr for apprentices. Employers must provide legal or certified documentation to support the circumstances that require subminimum wage approval.

Thus, there are differences between federal and state laws which require a comprehensive investigation. For instance, both federal and Washington state laws exempt learned and creative professionals, but the state law requires that such employees earn at least 2.5 times the rate of the state minimum wage to qualify as such professionals.

What is the Payment Due Date in Washington?

It is important that all workers receive their deserved compensation, regardless of how they are employed, whether hourly wages or flat rates. Employers are required to pay their employees on a regular basis according to the terms outlined in their employment agreement. Some companies may also provide compensation for non-worked hours, such as travel or wait time, time spent on-call, time spent dressing or undressing in a uniform, and time spent in training. The company’s specific policy may also include compensation for break time.

What are Washington Overtime Laws?

If you work more than 40 hours a week, you’re entitled to overtime pay of at least 1.5 times your regular hourly wage. For those earning minimum wage, this results in a total overtime pay of $24.42 per hour. Eligible employees for overtime include hourly, piece rate, and commissioned workers, as well as salaried employees who do not fall under the “executive, administrative, and professional” categories, and employees earning prevailing wages. The 2021 legislative session has also expanded overtime laws to include agricultural workers, specifically dairy workers. While non-dairy workers began phasing into the law on January 1, 2022, they must work 55 hours or more per week in order to qualify for overtime pay.  

What are Overtime Exceptions and Exemptions in Washington?

Following Washington Labor Law, the following types of employees are considered exempt from overtime pay:

  • Highly compensated employees making over $107,432 per year
  • Executive, professional and administrative employees earning at least $1302.4 per week
  • Computer professionals
  • Outside salespeople

Washington State also excludes minors and certain employees who don’t meet the definition of “an employee” as outlined in the Minimum Wage Act.  

Learn more in detail about Washington Salaried Employees Laws and Washington Overtime Laws.

What are Washington Time Off/Break Laws?

As per the regulations of the Washington Labor and Industries Department, all employees working in the state of Washington are entitled to a paid break of at least 10 minutes after completing a 4-hour work shift. To comply with these legal requirements, employers are mandated to provide their workforce with a total break time of 20 minutes for a standard 8-hour shift. It is important for employers to ensure that the scheduled breaks fall in the middle of the work shift, if possible. The nature of the job may determine whether employees can take rest breaks on the job site or not; however, any rest time taken by employees is considered as hours worked.

What are Washington Meal-Break Laws?

As per employment laws, employers are required to provide their employees with meal breaks of a minimum of 30 minutes if they work for more than 5 hours in a shift. The meal break should start sometime between the 2nd and 5th hour of the shift. However, it is important to note that the meal breaks during this time are usually not paid for, unless the job requires the employee to work through the meal break, stay on-call or if the nature of the job causes an interruption during the meal break. It is important to also be aware that there may be different break regulations applied to agricultural workers and minors.  

What are Washington Breastfeeding Laws?

As per the Revised Code 43.10.005 of the Washington State Legislature, employers are mandated to offer breastfeeding mothers certain provisions. These include a flexible schedule to enable milk pumping or tending to the newborn, a private and appropriate location (bathroom stalls don’t count), and 2 years of protected accommodations.  

What are Washington Leave Laws?

Washington state employees enjoy several leave benefits; however, employers may not offer these benefits in some instances. Given this, we can divide the leave benefits into two categories: required and non-required leaves.

What is Washington Required Leave?

As per the Washington labor laws, employers must allocate a specified amount of leave time for their workers:

  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – The state of Washington provides a mandatory FMLA program through the Employment Security Department which is designed to work in tandem with the federal program to offer further relief to employees in specific areas. In order to qualify for state FMLA employees must have worked at least 820 hours within the state. Benefits are available when an employee must leave to bond with a newborn or adopted child for up to 12 months, to take care of a family member, or in the event of a military emergency (exigency). Medical leave is available for serious illnesses, chronic illnesses, pregnancy issues, and medical treatments, with a duration of 12 weeks or more depending on individual circumstances. Combining federal and state FMLA programs can yield more weeks of leave.
  • Sick Leave – In 2016, voters approved the Paid Sick Leave law which allows employees to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. Employers are also able to offer more comprehensive benefits under their own policies. The sick leave accrues at the beginning of the calendar year (Jan, 1) and any unused days are transferred over to the next year. Employees are permitted to use this leave for their own physical or mental health problems, as well as those of a family member. They can also use the leave if their workplace or child’s school closes, or if they need to take leave under the state’s Domestic Violence Leave Act (DVLA).
  • Jury Duty Leave – According to Washington state law, employers cannot punish or fire employees for participating in jury duty. Employers are mandated to offer unpaid time off for this purpose, though employees may need to validate their absence with a jury summons. While employers are not obligated to pay for jury duty leave, they may choose to do so if they have policies in place allowing for it.
  • Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Leave – Employees who have experienced sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking are eligible to take time off from work to seek legal and medical help, contact social services, develop a safety plan, and relocate. This leave also applies to immediate family members. The employee may use sick leave, leave without pay, or paid time off for this purpose, depending on their situation.
  • Military Leave – The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows for military leave under certain conditions, such as caring for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness and for qualifying exigencies related to a family member being on covered duty. To qualify for FMLA military leave, the employer must have 50 or more employees within 75 miles and the employee must have worked 1,250 hours in the past 12 months. Additionally, state employees are granted paid military leave for 31 working days in each 12-month period. The location of military service is not relevant and employees will receive their standard wages. Elected officials may also be granted an extended leave of absence for active duty.
  • Bereavement Leave – In Washington State, every employee is allowed 3 days of paid leave for bereavement, which covers things like funerals and grieving periods. If they don’t require three days off, employees can ask for a shorter period of bereavement.

What is Washington Non-Required Leave?

Just like many other states in the US, Washington has non-mandatory leaves of absence, and it’s up to individual employers to decide whether to provide them or not. Here are the non-required leaves available in Washington:

  • Holiday Leave – In the state of Washington, employers are not obliged to provide time off for holidays unless their policies state otherwise. This being said, under the Family Care Act, employees may use any holiday leave they have in situations where they need to care for a child with a health condition or a family member with a serious or emergency health condition.
  • Voting Time Leave – As per Washington state law, an employer needs to offer two hours time off to their employees who are unable to vote on Election Day due to their work schedule. However, this is only possible if the employer receives a fair notice beforehand, failing which the employer will not be obliged to offer any time off for voting.
  • Vacation Leave – Just like with holiday leave, employers aren’t required to provide vacation leave unless specific circumstances arise such as a need to care for a family member under the Family Care Act.

Here is a table of official federal holidays observed in Washington:

Holiday Date
New Year’s Day 1 January
Martin Luther King Jr. Day Third Monday in January
Presidents’ Day Third Monday in February
Memorial Day Last Monday in May
Independence Day 4 July
Labor Day First Monday in September
Columbus Day Second Monday in October
Veterans Day 11 November
Thanksgiving Day Fourth Thursday in November
Day after Thanksgiving Fourth Friday in November
Christmas Day 25 December

What are Washington Child Labor Laws?

In Washington state, minors are permitted to work under certain conditions, whereas adults have no such restrictions. Firstly, the minor employee must possess a valid employment certificate obtained from school. Secondly, age certifications are mandatory to ensure employers comply with regulations, failure of which can attract penalties. These measures are implemented to safeguard minors against potential physical, moral, and emotional hazards.

What are the Laws on Working Hours for Minors in Washington?

Minors aged 14 and 15 have specific work time restrictions in Washington, where they can work up to 3 hours a day and 16 hours a week during the school week, and up to 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week during non-school weeks. Those who are 16 and 17 are allowed to work up to 4 hours a day and 20 hours a week during school weeks, and up to 8 hours a day and 48 hours a week during non-school weeks. However, minors under the age of 14 need to acquire a permit to work from a superior court.

Washington State has specific rules regarding breaks for different age groups. All minors are entitled to paid breaks regardless of their employment scenario. However, if a minor is under 16, they must rest for two hours after working for two hours. After four hours of work, they are entitled to a meal break, with each additional two hours worked granting them an extra 10 minutes. For example, six hours of work would provide them with 30 minutes of break time. If the minor is 16 or 17, they are entitled to a rest break after continuously working for three hours, and a meal break for 30 minutes if they have worked for at least five hours.  

What are the Banned Jobs for Minors in Washington?

In the state of Washington, there are several jobs and tasks that minors are not allowed to perform in any industry. These include:

  • Work related to slaughtering, packing, processing, and rendering of meat
  • Any tasks involving the use or repair of power-driven machines
  • Handling highly toxic chemicals
  • Working with explosives
  • Working during a labor dispute

Additionally, minors under the age of 16 are prohibited from performing several other tasks, such as driving, sales, cooking, operating machinery, and construction activities. These restrictions aim to protect the safety and well-being of young workers in the state.

As of now, there aren’t any state laws in Washington that lay out consequences for breaking child labor law provisions. However, it’s important to note that under federal law, any infractions may result in civil penalty fees up to $10,000.

Important Cautionary Note

This content is provided for informational purposes only. While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information presented, we cannot guarantee that it is free of errors or omissions. Users are advised to independently verify any critical information and should not solely rely on the content provided.