The Washington Employment Law Guide

The state laws every business owner should know

Businesses must post all applicable state and federal labor law posters in the workplace.

Washington labor law posters to download

Federal labor law posters to download

Wages and Breaks

Minimum wage
$13.50

The current minimum wage in Washington is $13.50.

The City of Seattle minimum wage is $16.39 for employers with more than 500 workers worldwide. The minimum wage for smaller employers is $15.75. The minimum wage for hospitality and transportation workers is $16.34.

Minimum wage laws in Washington will require an annual review of the wage starting January 1, 2021. The minimum wage must be increased to reflect the cost of living changes from the prior year.

Tipped min wage
$13.50

Tipped employees must be paid the standard minimum wage rate.

Overtime
1.5X

Washington law requires employers to pay non-exempt employees 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek. The Fair Labor Standards Act also requires that non-exempt employees be paid 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in the workweek.

The federal overtime rule stipulates that the minimum salary requirement for administrative, professional, and executive exemptions is $684 per week, or $35,568 per year.

Meal breaks
30 min per 5 hrs

Employers must provide adult employees at least one 30-minute meal break for every five consecutive hours worked.

The first meal period must be given at least two hours into each 5-hour work period, and employees must be allowed to take subsequent meal periods sometime after the initial 5 hours of work have been performed.

If employees work at least 3 hours past the time they normally end their shift, they must be provided an additional 30-minute meal period.

Meal periods do not need to be paid if employees are free from work duties, but this does not mean that they must be allowed to leave the premises.

Employers must pay for the meal periods if the employees: Are required to remain on duty; Are required to remain on the premises for the employers’ own interest; Are called back to duty even if they are not normally on call during the break.

If an employee’s meal period is interrupted, the employer must ensure they receive the full 30-minute break.

Employees are allowed to request to waive their meal period if the employer agrees with the request.

Minors 14 and 15 years of age may not be allowed to work more than 4 hours without taking a 30-minute meal break.

Minors 16 and 17 years of age must be provided a 30-minute meal break no less than 2 hours but no more than 5 hours from the beginning of their shift.

Rest breaks
10 min paid per 4 hrs

Employers are required to provide a paid rest break of at least 10 minutes for every 4 hours worked to adult employees.

The rest break should be scheduled as close to the midpoint of the 4 hours as possible.

Employees must be free of all work duties during the break.

If intermittent rest periods are provided, the scheduled 10-minute breaks are not required.

Minors 14 and 15 years of age must also be allowed to take paid rest breaks of at least 10 minutes for every 2 hours worked.

Minors 16 and 17 years of age must be given rest periods at least every 3 hours.

Employers with 15 or more employees must provide lactating employees with reasonable breaks to express milk for up to two years after the birth of their child.

Final Paychecks

Employers must pay employees who are terminated, who quit or who are laid off by the end of the established pay period.

There is no law regarding when employers must pay employees who are suspended or resign due to a strike.

Child Labor

Minors 14 and 15 years of age

During school weeks: They are allowed to work 3 hours a day, 8 hours on the weekend, 16 hours a week, and 6 days a week. They may only work between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

During non-school weeks: They are allowed to work 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week, and 6 days a week. They may work between the between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Minors 16 and 17 years of age

During school weeks: They are allowed to work 4 hours a day, 8 hours from Friday to Sunday, 20 hours a week, and 6 days a week. They may work between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. on weekdays and until midnight on the weekends.

During non-school weeks: They may work 8 hours a day, 48 hours a week, and 6 days a week.

Restrictions from duties

Minors are prohibited from performing these duties.

Breaks

Minors 14 and 15 years of age may not be allowed to work more than 4 hours without taking a 30-minute meal break. They must also be allowed to take paid rest breaks of at least 10 minutes for every 2 hours worked.

Minors 16 and 17 years of age must be provided a 30-minute meal break no less than 2 hours but no more than 5 hours from the beginning of their shift. They must be given rest periods at least every 3 hours.

Leave Requirements

Sick Days

At a minimum, employees must be provided one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked.

Unused paid sick leave balances of 40 hours or less must carry over from one accrual year to the next.

The City of Seattle has specific Paid Sick/Safe Time requirements for employees (whether full-time, part-time, or temporary): Employees who work for companies with up to 49 employees will earn one hour of PSST for every 40 hours worked, and carryover may be limited to 40 hours per year. Employees who work for companies with 50 to 249 employees will earn one hour of PSST for every 40 hours worked, and carryover may be limited to 56 hours per year. Employees who work for companies with more than 249 employees will earn one hour of PSST for every 30 hours worked, and carryover may be limited to 72 hours per year.

Family and medical leave

Employees are entitled to take paid leave through the state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program.

Employees will be eligible for paid leave if they have worked 820 hours in the qualifying period, which is the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters before the leave would begin.

Employees will receive up to 90% of their average weekly compensation, with a maximum of $1000 and a minimum of $100 per week. Employees will apply for and receive the benefit through the Employment Security Department.

Family leave will be available for bonding with a newborn or after placement of a child under 18 in the employee’s care, when a family member is dealing with an illness or medical event, and for certain military-connected events.

Medical leave will be available for an employee to deal with their own illness or medical event.

In most cases, employees will be entitled to up to 12 weeks of leave per year. In the case of multiple events or incapacity due to pregnancy, an employee may be entitled to 16 or 18 weeks of leave. This leave may run concurrently with those taken under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Employers may not require employees to take paid sick leave, vacation, or PTO before or during paid family or medical leave.

Bereavement leave

Employers are not required to provide employees bereavement leave.

Vacation time

Employers are not required to provide vacation leave but must comply with their own established policies if they choose to implement one.

Employers may deny the payment of accrued vacation upon separation from employment, but if they establish a policy that says they will pay it out, they must comply with the contract.

Employers may establish a policy that disqualifies employees from payment of accrued vacation if they fail to meet specific guidelines, such as giving two weeks notice.

The amount of vacation time an employee can accrue may be capped by the employer.

Employers can implement a “use-it-or-lose-it” policy that requires employees to use their vacation time by a set date, as long as employees have reasonable time to use their vacation time.

Holiday leave

Private employers are not required to provide holiday leave.

Jury Duty

Employers must provide enough leave for employees to serve as a juror, but it is not required to be paid.

Employers may not penalize employees for responding to a jury summons.

Voting time

The state does not require employers to provide leave.

Domestic Violence or Sexual Assault Leave

Employers must provide an employee who is a victim, or whose family member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, reasonable paid or unpaid leave from work to seek the assistance or remedies. Such assistance and remedies include, but are not limited to: Participating in any civil or criminal legal proceeding related to the violence; Seeking treatment by a health care provider; Obtaining services from a victim service provider; Obtaining mental health counseling; or Participating in safety planning, including relocation or other actions.

Pregnant Disability Leave

Employers with at least eight employees must provide pregnancy-disability leave to an employee who is sick or temporarily disabled because of pregnancy or childbirth. This leave is in addition to any applicable leave provided by the Washington Family Leave Act.

Military Leave

Employees that take leave for active duty or training with the Washington National Guard, the US Armed Forces, the Coast Guard, or the US Public Health Service are entitled to return to their job after their service.

After taking leave, the employee is entitled to return to their job or a job with similar seniority, status, and pay.

Their employment must be treated as a furlough or leave of absence in terms of seniority and other employment benefits. For one year, the employee may not be discharged without cause.

Employers must allow the spouse or registered domestic partner of a service member to take up to 15 days of leave for each deployment. To be eligible, the employee must work at least 20 hours a week on average.

The employee must be allowed to use any paid time off they have available for the family military leave.

The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) is also applicable to all employers in the United States.

Hiring, firing, and more

Discrimination

Federal law makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of: Race, Color, Age, Sex, Sexual orientation, Gender, Gender identity, Religion, National origin, Pregnancy, Genetic information, including family medical history, Physical or mental disability, Child or spousal support withholding, Military or veteran status, Citizenship and/or immigration status.

The Washington State Law Against Discrimination makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin, sex, marital status or the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a disabled person.

Under the Washington Equal Pay Act, employers are prohibited from paying different compensation to similarly employed individuals because of sex. Employees are similarly employed if they work for the same employer, their jobs require similar skill, effort, and responsibility, and their jobs are performed under similar working conditions. Note that two employees who are “similarly employed” may not necessarily have the same duties or even be in the same department.

Click here to read our blog on what acceptable and unacceptable questions to ask during an interview.

Termination

Washington is an employment-at-will state, which means that without a written employee contract, employees can be terminated for any reason at any time, provided that the reason is not discriminatory and that the employer is not retaliating against the employee for a rightful action.

Record Keeping

Regarding employment and payroll data, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and others, you must:

For at least 3 years: keep payroll records, certificates, agreements, notices, collective bargaining agreements, employment contracts, and sales and purchase records. Also keep completed copies of each employee’s I-9 for three years after they are hired. If the employee works longer than three years, hold on to the form for at least one year after the employee leaves. 

For at least 2 years: Keep basic employment and earning records like timecards, wage-rate tables, shipping and billing records, and records of additions to or deductions from wages. Also keep the records that show why you may pay different wages to employees of different sexes, such as wage rates, job evaluations, seniority and merit systems, and collective bargaining agreements.

For at least 1 year: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says employers should keep all employment records for at least one year from the employee’s date of termination. 

Other record-keeping laws that may apply to you: 

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, you need to keep records of job-related injuries and illnesses for five years. But some records, like those covering toxic substance exposure, have to be kept for 30 years.

You must keep files of benefit plans and seniority and merit systems while they are in effect and for at least a year after they end. You must also retain summary descriptions and annual reports of benefits plans for six years.

If your company is covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, you must also retain relevant records of leaves, notices, policies, and more for three years.

Additional laws that may apply to you

Uniforms

Employers may require that employees purchase and wear clothing of particular style and color, so long as it is also acceptable street wear (e.g. black pants, white polo shirt). They may under no circumstances take a payroll deduction for the cost.

Employers must bear the full cost if the required clothing would be considered a “uniform,” which is defined as: Clothing identifying a person as an employee of a specific employer; or Apparel specially marked with the employer’s logo; or Unique apparel to identify historical or ethnic background; or Formal attire.

Pay Practices

Employers in Washington must pay their employees at least monthly on regular paydays the employer chooses in advance. If the pay period is more frequent than monthly, the payday must be within 10 calendar days of the end of the pay period. If the pay period is monthly, wages earned in the last seven days of the month may be paid in the following pay period.

Lactation Accommodations

Employers with 15 or more employees must provide lactating employees with reasonable breaks to express milk for up to two years after the birth of their child. Employers must also provide a private space (other than a bathroom) if they have one. If they don’t have a private space, the employer is required to identify a convenient location and work schedule to accommodate the employee’s need to express milk.

Background checks

Employers who run background checks should ensure they’re following the requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which are available here.

Washington does not require that employers conduct background checks on their employees or applicants.

Credit and Investigative Checks

Employers may only obtain a credit report on an applicant or employee if credit information is substantially related to their job responsibilities or it is required by law. The employer must tell the applicant or employee that they will obtain a credit report for employment purposes.

Arrest and Conviction Checks

Inquiries concerning arrests must ask whether charges are still pending, have been dismissed, or led to conviction of a crime involving behavior that would adversely affect job performance, as well as if the arrest occurred within the last ten years.

Inquiries concerning convictions (or imprisonment) are only considered justified by business necessity if the crimes inquired about relate reasonably to the job duties, and if such convictions (or release from prison) occurred within the last ten years.

Law enforcement agencies, state agencies, school districts, businesses and other organizations that have a direct responsibility for the supervision, care, or treatment of children, mentally ill persons, developmentally disabled persons, or other vulnerable adults are exempt from these rules.

The City of Seattle has a “Ban the Box” ordinance that prohibits employers from using job postings or ads that categorically exclude individuals with criminal histories, limits inquiries into an applicant’s criminal history until after initial screening, requires a legitimate business reason for denying a job based on a conviction record, and requires that applicants be given an opportunity to explain any record.

Whistleblower Protection

Employers may not discharge or discriminate against an employee for doing any of the following:

Exercising their rights regarding workplace safety, such as reporting an unsafe working condition

Reporting in good faith a concern regarding quality of patient care to the Department of Health

COBRA

COBRA is a federal law that allows many employees to continue their health insurance benefits after their employment ends. Because federal COBRA only applies to employers that have 20 or more employees, many states have adopted their own versions of the law, which are known as “mini-COBRAs.” Washington has a limited mini-COBRA, which allows employers to decide whether they want to offer continued coverage as part of their policy.

Secure Scheduling

The City of Seattle has a secure scheduling ordinance that requires employers to post work schedules at least 14 days in advance, compensate employees for certain scheduling circumstances, and follow other guidelines around employee schedules.

Salary History

Under the Washington Equal Pay Act, employers may not inquire about the wage or salary history of an applicant from the applicant or a current or former employer unless the applicant volunteers the information, or after the employer has made a fully negotiated offer that includes compensation. Employers also may not require that an applicant’s prior wage or salary history meet certain criteria, regardless of when or how they acquire the information.

Telephone Monitoring

Washington is an “all parties” consent state, meaning every person on a phone call must be aware that they are being monitored or recorded and have consented by placing or continuing the phone call. This means employers may monitor or record phone calls between their own employees only if each employee has been given notice that phone calls may be monitored or recorded. However, phone calls placed by employees to outside parties may not be monitored or recorded unless the outside party has also consented.

Social Media

Washington employers may not: Request, require, or otherwise coerce an employee or applicant to disclose login information for the employee’s or applicant’s personal social networking account; Take adverse action against an employee or applicant because the employee or applicant refuses to disclose his or her login information, access their personal social networking account in the employer’s presence, add a person to the list of contacts associated with his or her personal social networking account, or alter the settings on their personal social networking account that affect a third party’s ability to view the contents of the account; Request, require, or otherwise coerce an employee or applicant to access their personal social networking account in the employer’s presence in a manner that enables the employer to observe the contents of the account; Compel or coerce an employee or applicant to add a person, including the employer, to the list of contacts associated with the employee’s or applicant’s personal social networking account; Request, require, or cause an employee or applicant to alter the settings on their personal social networking account that affect a third party’s ability to view the contents of the account

If the following conditions are met, the rules listed above to do not apply to an employer’s request that an employee share content from their personal accounts: The employer requests or requires the content to make a factual determination in the course of conducting an investigation; The employer undertakes the investigation in response to receipt of information about the employee’s activity on their personal social networking account; The purpose of the investigation is to ensure compliance with applicable laws, regulatory requirements, or prohibitions against work-related employee misconduct; or to investigate an allegation of unauthorized transfer of an employer’s proprietary information, confidential information, or financial data to the employee’s personal social networking account; The employer does not request or require the employee to provide his or her login information.

Compliance Calendar

Get our Compliance Calendar to stay on top of deadlines throughout the year: View it on your computer. Click + Google Calendar in the lower right to add it to your Google Calendar and subscribe to all updates. You can also download a calendar (.ics) file that you can import into iCal or Outlook, or download a PDF to your computer.  

Looking for ways to stay up to date on employment
laws
and small business news?

Subscribe now to get our weekly newsletter and
compliance updates

 Remember

This summary is not qualified legal advice. Laws are always subject to change, and they can vary from municipality to municipality. It’s up to you to make sure you’re compliant with all laws and statutes in your area. If you need more compliance help, we recommend consulting with a qualified lawyer, checking with your local government agencies, or signing up for Homebase to get help from our certified HR Pros. 

Additional Resources

Affected by COVID-19 or closures? We’re here for you. Visit our financial resources center for businesses and employees.

X