Labor and Employment Law Overview: Washington

Labor and Employment Law Overview requirements for other states

Federal law and guidance on this subject should be reviewed together with this section.

Author: XpertHR Editorial Team

Summary

  • State law prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees in a variety of protected classes. See EEO, Diversity and Employee Relations.
  • Washington law mandates that certain professionals undergo a background check before they may be hired. See Recruiting and Hiring.
  • Washington has requirements relating to the minimum wage, overtime, meal and rest breaks and child labor. See Wage and Hour.
  • Washington has some laws relating to employee pay and benefits, such as requirements for withholding wages, how often employees must be paid and health care continuation. See Pay and Benefits.
  • Under Washington law employees are entitled to certain leaves such as time off for family care, military leave, domestic violence leave and jury duty leave. See Attendance and Leave.
  • Washington law requires employers to provide a safe working environment for their employees. See Health and Safety.
  • State law dictates the manner and timing of a terminated employee's final paycheck. See Organizational Exit.

Introduction to Employment Law in Washington

Washington is generally considered an employee-friendly state.

Select Washington employment requirements are summarized below to help an employer understand the range of employment laws affecting the employer-employee relationship in the state. An employer must comply with both federal and state law.

An employer must also comply with applicable municipal law obligations affecting the employment relationship, in addition to complying with state and federal requirements.

EEO, Diversity and Employee Relations

The Washington Law Against Discrimination provisions generally apply to employers with eight or more employees and protect several protected classes from employer discrimination, including:

  • Race, creed, color and national origin;
  • Sex and sexual orientation;
  • Disability (mental, physical and sensory), including the use of a trained dog guide or service animal;
  • Age (age 40 and above);
  • Marital status;
  • Pregnancy; and
  • Military status or status as a veteran.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on EEO, diversity and employee relations practices in Washington can be found in the Washington Employee Handbook Table of Contents, EEO - Discrimination: Washington, Washington Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters, and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Washington? Federal requirements can be found in EEO - Discrimination: Federal.

Recruiting and Hiring

Key Washington requirements impacting recruiting and hiring practices are:

Mandatory Background Checks

Washington law requires that background checks be conducted on certain job applicants and employees such as:

  • Employees who have unsupervised access to children or individuals with a developmental disability;
  • Employees who provide childcare and early learning services to children;
  • Employees who have unsupervised access to vulnerable clients or potential clients with a vision disability;
  • Long-term care workers for the elderly or persons with a disability; and
  • Instructors, owners and other persons affiliated with a school who have regularly scheduled, unsupervised contact with students.

Arrests and Convictions

The Washington Human Rights Commission regulates what an employer can ask applicants about arrest and conviction records. Inquiries concerning arrests and convictions must include whether:

  • Charges are still pending, have been dismissed, or led to conviction of a crime involving behavior that would adversely affect job performance; and
  • The arrest occurred within the last 10 years.

There are instances where an employer may request a prospective employee's conviction history such as:

  • To secure a bond the applicant is required to have for employment;
  • If the applicant will work with trade secrets, national security, or other confidential or proprietary information; and
  • If an applicant or employee will have unsupervised access to children or vulnerable adults.

Lie Detector Tests

In general, an employer may not ask or require an employee, or prospective employee, to take a lie detector or similar test as a condition of employment or continued employment. Exceptions apply for:

  • Persons applying for law enforcement positions;
  • Persons applying for a position in with a county juvenile court services agency;
  • Law enforcement employees returning to work after an absence of 24 or more months; and
  • Applicants and employees who work with controlled substances.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on recruiting and hiring practices in Washington can be found in Preemployment Screening and Testing: Washington. Federal requirements can be found in Preemployment Screening and Testing: Federal.

Wage and Hour

Key Washington requirements impacting wages and hours are:

Minimum Wage

Washington's minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage. Currently, the state minimum wage is $9.47 per hour. The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries calculates an adjusted rate each year based on increases in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). The next adjustment is scheduled for January 1, 2017.

Overtime

Washington state law generally requires an employer to pay nonexempt employees overtime at one and one-half times the employee's regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a workweek.

Rest Periods

An employer must allow employees at least one paid 10-minute rest break for every four hours worked, and employees should not work for more than three continuous hours without a break. An employee's break time should be scheduled as close as possible to the mid-point of each four-hour period.

If an employer allows employees to take intermittent breaks totaling 10 minutes, then scheduled breaks are not required.

Meal Periods

Washington law requires that employees be given at least a 30-minute meal period and that they work no more than five hours without a meal period. The meal period should occur between the second and fifth hours of work. Meal periods may be unpaid if employees are completely relieved from duty and receive 30 minutes of uninterrupted meal time.

Child Labor

Child labor laws in Washington restrict the occupations in which minors may be employed and the number of hours and times during which they may work.

All minors are prohibited from working in hazardous occupations, and minors under the age of 16 are prohibited from working in a variety of other occupations such as manufacturing or transportation.

Washington also has a complex set of requirements that govern the times during which minors may work. These requirements differ depending on the age of the minor, with separate working time restrictions set out for 16- and 17-year-olds and minors under 16 years of age.

Minors who are 14 or 15 years of age must receive a paid rest break of at least 10 minutes for every two hours worked, and may not work more than four hours without being given a meal period of at least 30 minutes.

Minors who are 16 or 17 years old may not work more than five consecutive hours without a 30-minute meal period. The meal period must start no less than two hours, but no more than five hours, from the beginning of the work shift.

Minors are also entitled to a paid rest break of at least 10 minutes for every four hours worked. Rest breaks must be scheduled as close as possible to the midpoint of the work shift.

Rest breaks and meal periods may not be scheduled near the beginning of a minor's work shift.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on wage and hour practices in Washington can be found in Minimum Wage: Washington, Overtime: Washington, Hours Worked: Washington and Child Labor: Washington. Federal requirements can be found in Minimum Wage: Federal, Overtime: Federal, Hours Worked: Federal and Child Labor: Federal.

Pay and Benefits

Key Washington requirements impacting pay and benefits are:

Wage Deductions

A Washington employer may be required to make deductions from employees' wages in order to satisfy certain types of debt. These are considered involuntary deductions since employees do not elect them. Examples of involuntary deductions are child support withholding, creditor garnishments and tax levies. An employer may be subject to penalties for noncompliance.

Voluntary deductions are also permissible.

Wage Payments

An employer in Washington must pay employees at least once a month on regularly scheduled paydays and are required to provide employees with a pay statement showing:

  • The basis upon which wages are paid (e.g., hours or days worked);
  • Employees' rate(s) of pay;
  • Gross wages and deductions for the pay period; and
  • The pay period by month, day, year and payment date.

Pay statements may be made available electronically provided employee have access to receive them and can copy their statements on payday.

Health Care Continuation

Washington law requires issuers of group health coverage to offer the policyholder the option to include a provision for continuation coverage in the group health policy for an agreed upon period of time and rate of payment. Policies that include a provision for continuation coverage must also include a provision that offers covered individuals an opportunity to convert to an individual policy when coverage terminates.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on pay and benefit practices in Washington can be found in Involuntary and Voluntary Pay Deductions: Washington, Payment of Wages: Washington and Health Care Continuation (COBRA): Washington. Federal requirements can be found in Involuntary and Voluntary Pay Deductions: Federal, Payment of Wages: Federal and Health Care Continuation (COBRA): Federal.

Attendance and Leave

Key Washington requirements impacting attendance and leave are:

Washington Family Leave Act

The Washington Family Leave Act (FLA) requires covered employers to provide eligible employees with job-protected leaves for qualifying reasons. While the FLA and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) parallel each other to a certain extent, there are areas in which they differ. For example, the FLA provides additional benefits for women who are pregnant and provides coverage for domestic partners.

Other Leave Laws Affecting Washington Employers

In addition to the FLA, a Washington employer is also required to comply with additional leave laws including:

  • Family military leave;
  • Family care leave;
  • Pregnancy disability leave (covering employers with eight or more employees);
  • Parental leave;
  • Military leave;
  • Domestic violence leave;
  • Jury duty leave; and
  • Emergency responder leave (covering employers with 20 or more full-time equivalent employees).

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on attendance and leave practices in Washington can be found in Washington Employee Handbook Table of Contents, FMLA: Washington, Other Leaves: Washington, Washington Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Washington? Federal requirements can be found in FMLA: Federal and Other Leaves: Federal.

Health and Safety

Washington operates its job safety and health programs covering the private sector under an an approved state plan.

Under the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act, a Washington employer must provide and maintain a safe and healthy workplace for its employees, and develop, maintain and implement a safety program that addresses hazards specific to its business.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on health and safety practices in Washington can be found in HR and Workplace Safety: Washington, Washington Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Washington? Federal requirements can be found in HR and Workplace Safety (OSHA Compliance): Federal.

Organizational Exit

Key Washington requirements impacting organizational exit practices are:

Termination Pay

Terminated employees must be paid their final wages by the next regularly scheduled payday after separation from employment, unless a collective bargaining agreement provides for payment of final wages at another time.

Accrued Vacation Time

An employer in Washington must pay employees for accrued vacation if the employer has a policy or contract providing for it or has promised to pay it to the terminated employee.

References

An employer is Washington is considered to be acting in good faith when providing references, if the information relates to the employee's ability to perform the job, the employee's diligence, skill or reliability in carrying out their duties or any illegal or wrong acts done by the employee that related to job duties.

An employer should keep a record of references it provided for a period of two years after the reference was provided.

Be aware that where there is overlap between federal, state and/or local law, complying with the law that offers the greatest rights or benefits to the employee will generally apply.

Additional information on organizational exit practices in Washington can be found in Payment of Wages: Washington and Process of Termination: Washington. Federal requirements can be found in Payment of Wages: Federal and Process of Termination: Federal.