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

  • Washington law prohibits an employer from discriminating and retaliating against employees in a variety of protected classes. Employers must also provide pregnancy accommodations and allow employees access to their personnel files. See EEO, Diversity and Employee Relations.
  • Washington permits preemployment credit checks, and has passed a "ban the box" law. See Recruiting and Hiring.
  • In Washington, there are requirements relating to the minimum wage, overtime, meal and rest breaks and child labor. See Wage and Hour.
  • Washington has laws that relate to employee pay and benefits, including payment of wages, pay frequency, pay statements, wage deductions and health care continuation. See Pay and Benefits.
  • Under Washington law employees are entitled to certain leaves or time off, including family leave, paid sick leave, pregnancy disability leave, domestic violence leave and emergency responder leave. See Time Off and Leaves of Absence.
  • Washington law requires employers to provide a safe working environment for their employees, including developing a written accident prevention program. Washington also prohibits smoking in the workplace and using a hand-held device while driving. See Health and Safety.
  • When employment ends, Washington employers must comply with applicable final pay and job reference requirements. See Organizational Exit.

Introduction to Employment Law in Washington

Washington has many laws that provide greater protections to employees than federal law, including broader antidiscrimination protections, pregnancy accommodation rights, a higher minimum wage, health care continuation coverage obligations for smaller employers and paid sick leave, but generally follows federal law with regard to topics such as overtime pay and occupational safety and health.

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

Key Washington requirements impacting EEO, diversity and employee relations are:

Fair Employment Practices

The Washington Law Against Discrimination generally applies to employers with eight or more employees. It prohibits discrimination based on factors such as:

  • Race;
  • Creed;
  • Color;
  • National origin;
  • Sex;
  • Sexual orientation, including gender identity;
  • Disability, including the use of a trained dog guide or service animal;
  • HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis C status;
  • Genetic information;
  • Age (age 40 and above);
  • Marital status;
  • Pregnancy; and
  • Military or veteran status.

Equal Pay

A Washington employer may not discriminate in any way in the payment of wages between the sexes or pay a female employee a lower wage than is being paid to a similarly employed male employee.

Pregnancy Accommodation

An employer with 15 or more employees must provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy or pregnancy-related health conditions. A reasonable accommodation includes, but is not limited to:

  • More frequent, longer or flexible restroom breaks;
  • Modified no-food or -drink policy;
  • Job restructuring;
  • Part-time or modified work schedules;
  • Reassignment or transfer;
  • Acquisition or modification of equipment, devices or work station;
  • Seating or ability to sit more frequently if the job requires the employee to stand;
  • Assistance with manual labor and limits on lifting; and
  • Scheduling flexibility for prenatal visits.

Access to Personnel Files

Employees have the right to inspect their personnel records once per year. An employer must make the records available within a reasonable period after an employee's request to review them.

An employer is not obligated to make available records related to a criminal investigation or records prepared for a trial.

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, EEO - Harassment: Washington, EEO - Retaliation: Washington, Disabilities (ADA): Washington, HR Management: 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, EEO - Harassment: Federal, EEO - Retaliation: Federal, Disabilities (ADA): Federal and HR Management: Federal.

Recruiting and Hiring

Key Washington requirements impacting recruiting and hiring practices are:

Credit Checks

An employer may not obtain an applicant's credit report for employment purposes unless the information is substantially job related and the employer discloses the reasons for the use of such information in writing, or the report is required by law. Before denying employment based on the report, the employer must provide the applicant with certain information and the opportunity to dispute any information in the report.

Ban the Box

Under Washington's Fair Chance Act, an employer may not ask about arrests or convictions, or receive information through a criminal background check, before a job applicant is deemed otherwise qualified for a position. The Act also bans employers from advertising job openings in a way that excludes people with criminal records from applying.

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 and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in 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 $11.50 per hour. Annual increases are scheduled through 2020. Beginning in 2021, and every year thereafter, the minimum wage will be automatically adjusted for inflation.

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 Breaks

An employer must allow employees at least one paid 10-minute rest break for every four hours worked. An employee may 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 Breaks

Washington law requires that employees be given at least a 30-minute meal period and that they work no more than five consecutive 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 and 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 break 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 break. The meal break 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 the Washington Employee Handbook Table of Contents, Minimum Wage: Washington, Overtime: Washington, Hours Worked: Washington, Child Labor: Washington, Washington Workplace Labor and Employment Law Posters and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in 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:

Payment of Wages

An employer must pay wages in cash, or by checks that are convertible into cash on demand at full face value. The Washington Department of Labor and Industries allows payment by direct deposit or electronic paycards, provided employees incur no costs.

Wage Deductions

A Washington employer may make deductions from an employee's wages if required by state or federal law or court order, with the employee's written authorization or for other permissible reasons, including but not limited to health care deductions, child support withholding, creditor garnishments and tax levies.

Pay Frequency

An employer in Washington must pay employees at least once a month on regularly scheduled paydays.

Pay Statements

Every pay day, an employer is required to provide employees with a pay statement showing:

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

Health Care Continuation

Washington law requires issuers of group health coverage to offer employers 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.

Employees whose salaries are suspended or terminated as a result of a strike, lockout or other labor dispute have the right to pay premiums for up to six months directly for coverage under the group health plan. After six months, if the group plan is no longer available, employees have the right to conversion.

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 benefits practices in Washington can be found in Involuntary and Voluntary Pay Deductions: Washington, Payment of Wages: Washington, Health Care Continuation (COBRA): Washington and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Washington? Federal requirements can be found in Involuntary and Voluntary Pay Deductions: Federal, Payment of Wages: Federal and Health Care Continuation (COBRA): Federal.

Time Off and Leaves of Absence

Key Washington requirements impacting time off and leaves of absence are:

Family and Medical Leave

The Washington Family Leave Act (FLA) requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees with job-protected leaves for:

  • For the birth of a child;
  • For the placement of a child for adoption or foster care;
  • To care for a family member with a serious health condition; or
  • For the employee's own serious health condition.

Under Initiative 1433 (I-1433), a Washington employer must provide paid sick leave to eligible employees for:

  • An employee's or a family member's illness, injury or health condition; need for medical diagnosis, care or treatment; or need for preventive medical care;
  • An incident of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking; and
  • Closure of the employee's place of business or a child's school or place of care for a serious public health concern that could result in bodily injury or exposure to an infectious agent, biological toxin or hazardous material.

Other Time Off Requirements Affecting Washington Employers

In addition to the family leave and paid sick leave laws, a Washington employer is required to comply with other leave and time off laws, such as:

  • Military family leave;
  • Family care leave;
  • Pregnancy disability leave (covering employers with eight or more employees);
  • Military leave;
  • Domestic violence leave;
  • Jury duty leave; and
  • Emergency responder/Civil Air Patrol 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 time off and leave of absence practices in Washington can be found in the Washington Employee Handbook Table of Contents, FMLA: Washington, Other Leaves: Washington, Jury Duty: Washington, USERRA: 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, Other Leaves: Federal, Jury Duty: Federal and USERRA: Federal.

Health and Safety

Key Washington requirements impacting health and safety are:

Occupational Safety and Health

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

Under the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act, a Washington employer must provide workplace free from recognized hazards, and develop a written and effective accident prevention program.

Smoke-Free Workplace

Washington prohibits smoking in all workplaces. Signage should be posted at all entrances and exits, reminding employees and visitors of the smoking prohibitions.

The state requires a minimum smoke-free distance of 25 feet from all entrances, air intake ventilation, exits and windows. Ashtrays and other receptacles should not be placed within 25 feet of entrances or exits.

Safe Driving Practices

All drivers are prohibited from texting or using a hand-held device while driving a motor vehicle.

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 the Washington Employee Handbook Table of Contents, HR and Workplace Safety: Washington, Employee Health: 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 and Employee Health: Federal.

Organizational Exit

Key Washington requirements impacting organizational exit practices are:

Final Pay

Terminated employees must be paid their final wages by the next regular payday under most circumstances.

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 enjoys job reference immunity under the following circumstances:

  • The disclosure is made to a prospective employer or employment agency;
  • The disclosure is made in response to a specific request; and
  • The information relates to the employee's:
    • Ability to perform the job;
    • Diligence, skill or reliability when performing job duties; and
    • Illegal or wrongful acts committed that relate to the job duties.

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, Performance Appraisals: Washington and Does This Law Apply to My Organization in Washington? Federal requirements can be found in Payment of Wages: Federal and Performance Appraisals: Federal.