Compliance Watch:
What are my rights as an hourly employee in Washington?

March 11th 2024

It is crucial to recognize that the legal rights pertaining to employment of an hourly employee transcend beyond mere legality; it is the pathway towards professional development which establishes the self-empowerment needed to help direct one’s own career journey.

As you punch in and out every day from work, the income that you earn significantly shapes your position within the professional environment. While the subtleties of employment regulations vary across different states in the United States, this may have you pondering about what your specific employment entitlements are in your particular state and how you can ensure that they are rightfully upheld in accordance with their respective laws.

Hence, this article is written to particularly address your queries concerning various aspects of employment as a working employee. It serves to equip you with the relevant information needed to ensure that your employment rights are legally protected throughout your career.

This Article Covers

Defining an Hourly Employee in Washington
Wage and Hour Regulations in Washington
Rest Laws in Washington
Deductions, Benefits, and Protections in Washington
Termination of Employment in Washington

Defining an Hourly Employee in Washington

What is Hourly Employment in Washington?

Typically, the compensatory nature of an hourly employee is defined as payment that is based on the number of hours an employee has worked. Generally, such employees are qualified to earn compensation for working overtime in contrast to salaried employees.

Unlike salaried employees, the working hours of hourly employees are typically fixed by their respective employers and may vary every other week due to shift rotations or the scheduling of different work hours. Due to this work arrangement, employers rely on time tracking methods to document and verify the payable working hours of hourly employees’ to make sure they are accurately compensated.

As salaried employees receive a fixed salary that is independent from their working hours, hourly employees may have a fluctuating income due to varying work hours set by their employers. Hence, due to the general work nature of hourly employees, hourly employees may enjoy less work benefits than their salaried counterparts.

What are the Key Differences Between Salaried and Hourly Employees in Washington?

Aspect Hourly Employees Salaried Employees
Compensation They are compensated based on each hour they have worked. A set salary is earned on a monthly basis or bimonthly basis. 
Overtime Pay They are legally eligible to earn the state’s mandated overtime compensation. They may be legally ineligible to earn the state’s required overtime compensation  if they are categorized as ‘exempt’ employees.
Minimum wage They may be legally eligible to receive the state’s mandated minimum hourly wage. They may not be legally eligible to earn the state’s mandated minimum hourly wage if they are categorized as non-exempt.
Employment security They may have less job security in their employment. They may have more job security in their employment.
Rest and Meal Breaks They are legally entitled to mandatory rest and meal breaks according to state law. They are legally entitled to mandatory rest and meal breaks according to state law.
Compensation Stability Income supply is dependent on the number of hours they have actually worked. Income is granted on a consistent basis   regardless of the number of hours worked. 

To learn more about Washington labor laws, you can access our informative guides on understanding your rights as a salaried employee in Washington and discovering how to run payroll in Washington.

Wage and Hour Regulations in Washington

What are the Maximum Weekly Working Hours in Washington?

Similar to many other U.S. states, both state law and federal law establish no legal maximum limit on the number of weekly hours an employee is required to work in the state of Washington. In other words, employees above 16 years of age acquire the freedom to work as many hours as they desire in a week, as established by the provisions of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Nevertheless, federal overtime laws and state law demands employers to pay overtime compensation to employees who work more than 40 hours in a given work week at a rate established at one and a half times of the employee’s regular hourly pay.

However, it is worth highlighting that not all employees in the state of Washington are eligible to earn the state’s minimum wage and overtime pay. Individuals employed in certain occupations are legally exempt from this general entitlement under both state and federal law.

What is the Minimum Wage for Hourly Employees in Washington?

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Washington Minimum Wage Act are the two key primary legislations that regulate the wage and hour standards of employees in the state of Washington.

As effective from January 1st of 2024, Washington’s current minimum wage is fixed at $16.28 per hour, which is more than the federally mandated minimum wage of $7.25. This minimum wage amount is expected to rise annually due to the Department of Labor and Industries adjusting the state’s minimum wage in direct proportion to inflationary pressures. Accordingly, hourly employees in Washington typically earn a minimum weekly pay rate of $629.6 in a 40 hour workweek.

Do all Employees Earn the Minimum Wage in Washington?

Below is a particular list of employees in specific occupations exempt from Washington’s minimum wage requirement, as mandated by both federal and state law.

  • Employees of the age of 14 or 15 years: State law allows employees of the age of 14 or 15 years to earn 85% of the state’s minimum hourly pay,
  • Employees below 20 years old: Federal law mandates employees under the age of 20 to receive an hourly training wage of $4.25 within the first 90 days of commencing their employment.
  • Casual babysitters.
  • Outside salesmen.
  • Newspaper delivery men.
  • Agricultural employees.
  • Administrative, executive, or professional employees.
  • Employees who are computer professionals.

How Many Hours Qualify As Overtime and What is the Associated Pay in Washington?

Although state law and federal law do not define the maximum weekly hours an employee is eligible to work, both laws similarly define overtime hours as any hours worked exceeding the standard 40-hour work week whereby employees must be paid at a fixed rate of one and a half times their regular hourly wage. That means Washington’s hourly employees are legally entitled to earn $24.42 per overtime hour worked.

Below is a list of some of the many employees in specific occupations that are exempt from earning the state’s mandated overtime wage by either state or federal law:

  • Independent contractors.
  • Seamen.
  • Junior ice hockey players.
  • Volunteers of educational, charitable, religious, government, or non-profit organizations.
  • Forest protection and fire prevention employees.
  • Truck or bus drivers who are subjected to the Federal Motor Carrier Act.
  • Crew of non-American ships.
  • Employees  employed by railroad or pipeline companies that are subjected to the Interstate Commerce Act.

Rest Laws in Washington

What are the Offered Meal and Rest Breaks for Hourly Employees in Washington?

Under Washington statutory law, section 296-131-020 and section 296-126-092 of the Washington Administrative Code mandates employers to provide a thirty minute unpaid meal break to their employees who work more than five hours whereby the meal break must be used after the second work hour but before the start of the fifth work hour in which the employee must be completely relieved from all work duties. Additionally, employees must take their meal breaks before they decide to work for three or more hours of overtime in a given workday.

Regarding rest breaks, an employee must be given a paid rest break no longer than ten minutes for every four hours of work completed. Employers are prohibited from denying their employees a rest break after they have worked for more than three consecutive hours. Furthermore, the right to rest breaks cannot be waived by an employee in Washington.

As for employees who are minors, employed minors aged fourteen to fifteen must be given a thirty minute meal break for working more than four hours a day along with a ten minutes rest period for every two hours of work. On the other hand, minor employees aged sixteen to 17 must be given a thirty minute meal break for working more than five hours a day along with a ten minutes rest period for every three hours of work.

Furthermore, the respective provisions of Washington’s statute establishes that reasonable breaks must be extended to employees who are nursing mothers. The law mandates employers to accommodate nursing mothers by providing them with the break opportunity to express milk in a private non-restroom area for up to two years after childbirth.

What Laws Govern Time Off and Leaves for Hourly Employees in Washington?

The several key laws that regulate time off and leaves for hourly employees in Washington are as follows:

  1. Pregnancy disability leave: State regulations enforce employers to provide employees with leave for the duration of time that she is ill or temporarily disabled for reasons relating to childbirth or pregnancy.
  2. Paid sick leave: Washington regulations require employers to provide their non-exempt employees, including part-time employees, with accrued paid sick leave. Typically, every hour of paid sick leave is accrued for every 40 hours of work. This leave can be used on the 90th day of employment by an employee to take care of themselves when their workplace or child’s school is shut down for health related issues or for crime victim related reasons.
  3. The Family and Medical Leave: The federal legal provisions under The Family and Medical Leave Act mandate all employers in the United States to provide eligible employees with 12 weeks of unpaid leave of absence per year. This leave is typically used for matters concerning the birth or adoption of a child, a serious health condition which affects either the employee or their immediate family member or particular military-related activities. Employees can only qualify for this leave if:
    • They were hired by the same employer for a minimum of 12 months before commencing their leave.
    • They must have worked for at least 1,250 hours during the 12 month period of being employed under the same employer. 
    • The employer has 50 or more employees within a 75 mile radius.

Deductions, Benefits, and Protections in Washington

What are the Laws Regarding Pay Deductions for Hourly Employees in Washington?

With respect to the regulations of pay deductions in the state of Washington, an employer is only allowed to withhold an employee’s wage without their prior written authorization if:

  • They are required to do so by state or federal law.
  • The wage deductions are required to fund any medical, surgical, or hospital care expenses.
  • The deductions fulfil any court orders, judgements, bankruptcy proceedings or payroll deduction notices for child support payments.

Additionally, an employer is permitted to make deductions in an employee’s wage only if they have been given authority to do so by the respective employee, for the following reasons below:

  • Deductions mandated by state or federal law (such as federal income taxes, Medicare or workers’ compensation).
  • Deductions for court-ordered wage garnishments.
  • Deductions to cover medical, surgical, or hospital care.

Furthermore, an employer is prohibited from making wage deductions from an employee’s paycheck if such deductions concern:

  • Reimbursements for a customer’s bad check or credit card payment.
  • Cash register deficits.
  • Walk-outs from customers, theft, or unpaid bills.
  • Costs to cover damages or loss of company equipment.

What are the Provided Hourly Employees Entitlements Under Washington State Law?

Below is a list comprising of the various employment entitlements that Washington’s hourly employees have:

  • Minimum wage: Washington’s hourly employees are legally entitled to earn the state’s mandated minimum hourly wage of $16.28.
  • Overtime: According to both state and federal law, hourly employees acquire the legal right to be compensated for working hours beyond the 40 hours work week, at a rate of one and a half times their standard hourly pay.
  • Worker’s compensation benefits: Employees who have sustained occupational-related injuries that have caused their total or partial incapacity or death are rightly covered under the insurance that must be provided by their employer. 
  • Labor union rights: Among many other rights granted under the federal National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) law, Washington employees are entitled to decide whether to join a labor union, participate in any union-related activities, collectively bargain through elected representatives, or discuss employment’s terms and conditions with colleagues.
  • Unemployment insurance benefits: In Washington, employees who have lost their job under no fault of their own are generally entitled to unemployment benefits which supplies employees with temporary income during time of unemployment as they seek for other employment opportunities.

What are the Provided Hourly Employee Protections Under Washington State Law?

The following list below comprises various legal employment protections for Washington state employees:

  1. Genetic testing: Under Washington state statutory law, employees are legally protected from being genetically tested by their respective employers or providing genetic information as a condition of employment. 
  2. Social media protection: As established in section 49.44.200 of the Washington Revised Code, employees are legally protected from having their social media observed or their login credentials disclosed to employers upon request. Furthermore, the law states that employers cannot compel or take adverse action against their employees who refuse to give them access to their social media accounts.
  3. Child labor protection: Employed minors in Washington are strictly regulated in the scope of employment by the respective provisions of Washington state law. These specific legal provisions aim to safeguard the wellbeing and safety of minors such as through ensuring they are provided with adequate rest and meal breaks and limiting their eligible work hours. Furthermore, minors are only allowed to commence work if their respective employers have first obtained prior authorization from their parents or school.
  4. Personal information protection: According to the legal provisions of Washington state law, employees must be notified by their employers about any security breaches involving the unauthorized acquisition of their unsecured personal details. Personal information includes passwords or security questions and answers that provides access to online accounts and excludes information made lawfully available to the general public from governmental records.

Termination of Employment in Washington

What are the Termination Laws for Hourly Employees in Washington?

By default, the character of employment relationships in the state of Washington is generally defined as ‘at-will’ in nature. In simpler terms, both the employer and employee reserve the right to terminate the employment relationship at any given time without giving any prior notice or particular reasons for doing so. Hence, the adoption of this common employment doctrine adds flexibility to the employment relationship between the employer and employee. Nevertheless, specific exceptions apply to this standard employment doctrine in order to safeguard the rights of employees from being wrongly terminated. The exceptions are as follows:

  1. Breach of contract: An employment contract typically stipulates what grounds may constitute a valid reason for an employee’s dismissal. Hence, if there exists an employment contract that dictates the relationship between employers and employees, employers are then legally mandated to disclose their reasons for terminating the employment of an employee.
  2. Retaliation: Employers cannot terminate an employee who chooses to assert their legal rights in the workplace such as filing complaints pertaining to employment discrimination or unsafe work conditions.
  3. Workplace discrimination: An employer is prohibited under federal law to terminate their employee based on their protected characteristics such as their race, marital status, national origin, age, sex, disability or religion. 
  4. Public policy: In the state of Washington, employers cannot terminate their employees on the basis that they have:
    • Chosen to exercise their own legal right (such as filing a claim for worker’s compensation).
    • Reported an illegal activity done by their employer (such as a violation of the law).
    • Refused to participate in illegal activities as a condition of continued employment.
    • Chosen to fulfil their duties which serve the public interest (such as serving the military or participating in voting).

Furthermore, employees in Washington who have been dismissed or have quit their job must be given their final paycheck on the next regularly scheduled payday. If a terminated employee fails to return tools or equipment, the respective employer should comply with deduction rules concerning their final paycheck, in accordance with Washington law, instead of withholding their wages.

Should Severance Pay Be Provided to Hourly Employees in Washington?

With regards to severance pay, both Washington laws and federal laws remain silent as to the enforcement of offering severance pay to employees by their respective employers in the state of Washington. 

Therefore, Washington based employers who choose to provide their employees with severance pay must ensure that this has already been agreed upon in the employment contract or collective bargaining agreement. Severance pay is typically calculated based on the employee’s length of service which, in the state of Washington, is typically a week’s worth of income per year of service.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, acquiring a solid grasp of your particular employment rights applicable in your state can safeguard your well being in the workplace as well as ensure that your legal entitlements are upheld accordingly by your employer.

Given the general adaptive character of employment regulations, it is imperative to  remain well-informed about recent legal progressions in employment. This ensures that you will be able to make enlightened decisions concerning your employment throughout your professional career.

Important Cautionary Note

When making this guide we have tried to make it accurate but we do not give any guarantee that the information provided is correct or up-to-date. We therefore strongly advise you seek advice from qualified professionals before acting on any information provided in this guide. We do not accept any liability for any damages or risks incurred for use of this guide.