Employer Insights

Washington Labor Laws - The Complete Guide for 2022

by Lori Brown, on Oct 19, 2022 2:49:19 PM

Washington employment and labor laws are made up of a wide variety of legislation aimed at helping to govern the employer and employee relationship while protecting workers throughout the state. Washington labor laws cover various employment situations including areas like hiring and discrimination, pay, leave, breaks, workplace safety and much more.

Managing compliance in any state is no easy task. And employers throughout Washington not only need to comply state law, but with federal labor laws and even local laws in cities like Seattle. Companies that are struggling with Washington labor law compliance may want to consider seeking help from a Washington payroll and HR company like PayNW.

However, employers can use this article as a guide to help understand and manage compliance with legislation and labor laws throughout Washington in a few key areas, which include, but are not limited to:

  • Recruiting and Hiring Laws
  • Wage and Hour Laws
  • Child Labor Laws
  • Employee Leave Laws (sick time, paid leave, etc.) 
  • Health & Safety Law
  • Discrimination Laws
  • Postings, Notifications, and Recordkeeping Requirements

Washington Recruiting and Hiring Laws

Washington employers can breathe a sigh of relief when it comes to recruiting and hiring laws, as recruiting and hiring is one of the smaller areas of labor law compliance for the state. However, Washington does have rules that employers need to be aware of when it comes to the criminal history of job applicants and potential new hires.

Washington ‘Ban the Box’ Law and Criminal History

Also known as the Washington Fair Chance Act, Washington’s Ban the Box law prohibits employers from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history via:

  • A question on a job application
  • Inquiring orally or in writing
  • A criminal history background check
  • Or any other method of obtaining said information

However, an employer may inquire as to the criminal history of a potential new hire once the employer determines that the applicant is otherwise qualified for the position.

In addition to rules surrounding obtaining criminal history in Washington, employers are also prohibited from:

  • Posting job openings that have messages that exclude people with criminal records from applying
    • Examples: “No Felons”, “no criminal background”
  • Implementing a policy or practice that in any way prevents an individual from consideration for a position prior to an initial determination and the individual is otherwise qualified 

Some employers are exempt, however, such as employers who are espresso permitted or are required to inquire into or consider information about an applicant's criminal record for employment purposes.

Other Regulations Regarding Access to Criminal Records

In Washington, anyone may obtain conviction records and information relating to arrests, detentions, charges, indictments, and final dispositions that occurred within the past year and are pending in the state criminal justice system. 

In other words, anyone is allowed to obtain said records, so long as they aren’t violating the Washington Fair Chance Act to do so.

Employers may also obtain more complete conviction records if:

  • They are securing a bond for employment
  • Screening for positions involving trade secrets, proprietary information, valuable property, or information concerning national security
  • They are investigating suspicion of employee criminal misconduct

Note: Employers may ask applicants about convictions that occurred or resulted in incarceration within the past 10 years if the crime is reasonably related to the requirements of the position, as well as arrests within the past 10 years that involved behavior that could adversely affect job performance

Employers that do seek more complete conviction records, however, are required to:

  • Notify the employee or new hire whose records are in question of the receipt of such records within 30 days or upon completion of an investigation of misconduct
  • Make the record or records available for examination by the individual in question
  • Notify the individual that the record is available for examination
Prohibited Uses of Criminal Records in Washington

Employers may not:

  • Access sealed or expunged records
  • Disclose an applicant’s criminal convictions or history unless authorized by law

Note: Washington's nondiscrimination law applies to employers with 8 or more employees

To request criminal history record information, employers should contact the Washington State Patrol's Identification and Criminal History Section, or contact a Washington HR and payroll provider for help.

New Hire Reporting

Washington state employers must submit information regarding new hires as well as certain employees returning to work. Information must be submitted to the Washington New Hire Reporting Program.

Employers need to report the following information for each new hire, or recalled employee:

  • Employee's name, address, date of birth, social security number, and date on which the employee first performed services for pay
  • Employer's name, address, and federal identification number

Employers must submit the above information within 20 days from the date of hire or re-employment. Employers reporting electronically must transmit twice monthly, roughly every 12-16 days.

Rehiring Employees

Aside from new hires, employers must also report the same information for each employee who was previously employed but has been separated from the company for at least 60 consecutive days.

How to Report New Hire Information in Washington

Employers may report new hire information through the Washington New Hire Reporting Program

Alternatively, employers can submit a new or rehired employee form or W-4 by fax or mail to the new hire reporting program. Employers may also create their own form so long as it contains all of the required information. Lastly, employers may also submit the required information by phone by calling the New Hire Reporting Phone System at (800) 562-0479.

Note: Employers with employees in two or more states who transmit reports magnetically or electronically may designate a single state to which all new hires can be reported after notifying, in writing, the federal Department of Health and Human Services, of this designation.

Failure to report can result in hefty fines, so it's important for employees in Washington to stay on top of new hire reporting. Businesses should contact a Washington HR company for help if needed.

Wage and Hour Laws

Employers in the state of Washington must manage compliance with the following wage and hour-related laws and regulations.

Employee Classification

Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), three types of workers are non-exempt, exempt, and independent contractors. Employers should ensure that they properly classify employees, as the misclassification of a worker may have state and federal monetary consequences.

Washington Minimum Wage

Washington minimum wage updates somewhat regularly to account for changes in the cost of living. Currently, Washington's minimum wage is $14.49 an hour for the majority of the state. 

There are some exemptions to the state minimum wage, for instance, employees 14 and 15 years old may be paid 85% of the applicable minimum wage.

Seattle Minimum Wage

The minimum wage for businesses located in Seattle, Washington is $17.27 an hour. However, employers with 500 or fewer employees that also pay at least $1.52 per hour in employer contributions toward medical benefits, or in tips, may use a special minimum wage rate of currently $15.75.

Deductions from Wages

According to requirements for Washington Wage Deductions, employers in Washington are typically only allowed to deduct wages from an employee if:

  • It is required by another law
  • It is necessary to cover medical, surgical, or hospital care
  • It is in order to satisfy a court order, judgment, wage attachment, trustee process, bankruptcy proceeding, or payroll deduction notice for child support payments

However, given consent from the employee, an employer may deduct wages for the following:

  • Deductions required by state or federal law, such as federal income taxes, Medicare, workers’ compensation, etc.
  • Court-ordered wage garnishments
  • Deductions that benefit the employee, this agreement must be in writing 
    • Final paychecks can have an oral agreement 
  • Deductions for medical, surgical, or hospital care or service

Employers are completely prohibited from making pay deductions for the following reasons:

  • Reimbursements for a customer's bad check or credit card
  • Cash register shortages – even when an employee counts their till at the beginning and end of their shift, has sole access to the cash register and is short at the end of the shift
  • Customer walk-outs, theft, or unpaid bills
  • Damages to or loss of company equipment

Deductions from Final Pay

Deductions from final wages can be made for certain incidents that occurred in the final pay period, however, there must be an agreement between the employee and the employer prior. 

Important to note is these deductions may not reduce the employee's final gross wages below the state minimum wage.

Overpayments

An employer may deduct from an employee’s pay to correct an overpayment, so long as the overpayment was inadvertent, infrequent, and discovered within 90 days of the deduction.

The employer must also provide advance written notice and documentation of the overpayment to the employee before any adjustment is made. The notice must explain how the employer intends to recoup the overpayment and may reduce the employee's gross wages below the state minimum wage.

Washington Final Pay Requirements

According to Washington Final Pay Law, employees who are terminated, or who quit must be paid on the next regularly scheduled payday. 

There is no specific law requiring payment of unused benefits in Washington, however, employers must honor any agreements regarding payment of unused benefits made at the time of hire or after.

Overtime Pay

Employees earn overtime pay in Washington for all hours worked in excess of 40 in a week. Overtime pay is 1 ½ times the employee’s regular rate of pay.

Who Gets Overtime in Washington?

The following types of employees are entitled to overtime in Washington:

  • Most hourly, piece rate, and commissioned employees.
  • Some salaried employees. Only salaried employees who meet the executive, administrative, and professional definitions – often called “white-collar” jobs – are exempt from overtime.
  • Employees working on prevailing wage jobs.
  • Employees working in agriculture and dairy industries.

Wage Payment Timing

Washington employers must pay employees, generally, at least once a month on designated paydays. When deciding on a pay frequency, employers may:

  • Include wages for work performed by an employee during the last 7 days of the pay period on the paycheck of the following pay period, if the employer pays employees monthly. 
  • Decide to pay employees multiple times a month, in which case payments must be made within 10 days of the end of the pay period.
  • Employ salespeople, who must be paid for all money earned (including commission) within 30 days of the employer’s receipt of payment

Meal and Rest Breaks

In addition to wage laws, employers must also be aware of Washington Meal and Rest Break Laws too.

Meal Breaks in Washington

Workers who are on a shift of five hours or more are entitled to a 30-minute meal break. The break must be no earlier than two hours into the shift and no later than five hours.

Minors ages 14 and 15 are entitled to a 30-minute meal break after a shift of four or more hours.

A 30-minute meal period also must be provided before or during any overtime shift that is at least three hours after a normal work day. Meal breaks must be paid unless the employee is relieved of all duties during the entire meal period. 

Note: The Washington Supreme Court has held that an employer is not automatically liable if a meal break is missed because an employee may waive the meal break.

Rest Breaks in Washington

Workers must be allowed a rest break of at least ten minutes for every four hours of work. Important to note is an employee may not be required to work more than three hours without a rest period. 

However, in jobs where the nature of the work allows employees to take rest breaks equivalent to ten minutes for every four hours worked, then the employer is not required to offer rest breaks. This rule does not apply to minors. 

Additionally, minors ages 14 and 15 must be given a break of ten minutes or more for every two hours worked instead of three.

Child Labor Laws

Employers in the state must manage compliance with both federal and Washington Child Labor Laws. Where the laws intersect, the more protective of the two always applies. 

Under state law, a written order issued by a judge of a superior court of the county in which a minor resides is a prerequisite to the hiring of said minor if they are under the age of 14. 

In addition, Washington law has special requirements for the following items when it comes to the employment of minors:

  • Minimum Wage
  • Hours Worked
  • Duties Performed

Employer Responsibilities for Washington Youth Employment

Before hiring a minor, employers must also satisfy the following requirements:

  • The employer must obtain, keep current, and post valid minor work permit endorsements issued by the state
  • The employer must obtain and keep on file a completed parent/school authorization form for each minor it employs
  • The employer must keep on file any variances issued to it according to variance and/or special variance sections of the law

Note: If the employer sponsors bona fide unpaid work-based learning programs approved by the office of the superintendent of public instruction or a local school district, the employer is not required to obtain minor work permit endorsements for those programs.

Employee Leave and Sick Time Laws

Washington employers must manage compliance for the following leave laws:

  • Paid Sick Leave
  • Paid Family and Medical Leave
  • Pregnancy Disability Leave
  • Military Family Leave
  • Jury Duty Leave
  • Victim Leave

Washington Paid Sick Leave

Generally, employers in Washington must provide each employee with paid sick leave, with the exception of traditionally exempt employees under FLSA. 

Washington Paid Sick Leave is compensated at the employee’s normal rate of pay, however unused sick leave is not required to be paid out upon termination of employment.

Paid Sick Leave Accrual

Employees accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. Fortunately for employees, there is no cap on how many hours they may accrue, and employers are also required to allow employees to carry over at least 40 hours from one year to the next. 

Employees begin accruing sick leave on the first day of employment, however, they may only use paid sick leave starting on their 90th day of employment.

Paid Sick Leave Usage

Employees may use paid sick leave:

  • To care for the health needs of themselves or their family members.
  • To get help or help a family member with domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking

Employer Responsibilities for Washington Paid Sick Leave

Employers must provide a general notice to employees regarding Paid Sick Leave rights and regulations as well as provide a monthly notice to each employee notifying them of:

  • How many hours they have accrued overall 
  • How many hours they have used since the last notice
  • How many hours they currently have available for use. 

Employers may require 10 days' notice for foreseeable leave, or as early as practicable.  For unforeseeable leave, an employer may require an employee to give notice as soon as possible before the start of his or her shift, if practicable. If not practicable, another person may notify the employer. 

Notice requirements must be included in a written policy readily available to all employees.

Can Employers Ask for Proof of Reason for Leave?

For absences of three days or more, employers may require verification that the use was for an allowed purpose. Verification requirements must be included in a written policy readily available to all employees.

Local Paid Leave Laws

Employers in Washington must also be aware of any local leave laws that they may be subject to. In particular, Washington has a Seattle Paid Sick and Safe Time Law, as well as a Tacoma Paid Sick Leave Law.

Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave

In addition to paid sick leave, employers must also manage compliance with the Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) Program. Between paid sick leave and paid family medical leave, Washington employers may want to turn to a Washington HR provider for help with tracking leave.

Employees who take leave and are paid a weekly wage that is 50% or less of the state average are compensated at a rate of 90% of the employee's average weekly wage. 

Employees that are paid a weekly wage of over 50% of the state average are compensated at a rate of 90% of 50% the state average weekly wage, plus 50% of the difference between the employee's average weekly wage and one-half of the state average weekly wage.

For 2022, an employee's weekly benefit is capped at $1,327.

PFML Employee and Employer Contributions

For 2022, the premium for PFML is 0.6% of each employee’s gross wages. However, the employee does not pay the full cost of that premium. 

Of the 0.6%, employers cover 26.78%, while employee withholding covers the remaining 73.22%. 

Employers with under 50 employees are exempt from the employer portion of the premium. Employers may still decide to pay some or all of the employee share on their behalf. Premiums are due at the end of the calendar month immediately after the end of the calendar quarter.

Washington PFML Eligibility

Employees who have worked at least 820 hours in the first four of the previous five calendar quarters, or the last four completed calendar quarters immediately preceding the leave request. 

Note: The COVID-19 temporary grant to expand eligibility temporarily due to a reduction in available hours to employees ended in March of 2022.

Qualifying Life Events for PFML

An employee may take leave under Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave Law for the following reasons:

  • Paid Family Leave:
    • Providing care for a family member with a serious health condition
    • To bond with the employee’s child during the first 12 months after the birth (or the first 12 months after the placement of a child under the age of 18 with the employee)
    • During the seven calendar days following the death of a family member for whom the employee would have qualified for medical leave for the birth of their child, or would have qualified for family leave for child bonding (effective June 9, 2022)
    • Any qualifying exigency as permitted under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act for family members.
  • Paid Medical Leave
    • The employee's own serious health condition. Effective June 9, 2022, leave taken in the postnatal period (defined as six weeks after birth) for incapacity due to pregnancy is medical leave, unless the employee chooses to use family leave for this purpose. Additionally, certification of a serious health condition is not required for this leave.

PFML Leave Duration

Generally, the maximum duration for leave is 12 times the employee's typical workweek hours during 52 consecutive calendar weeks. However, an employee can combine the two benefits (family leave and medical leave) and take leave for 16 times the employee's typical workweek hours. For a female employee who experiences a serious health condition related to pregnancy that results in incapacity, two additional weeks may be added to either total.

PFML Leave Notices

Employees must provide notice for using PFML leave for:

  • The birth or placement of a child with 30 days' notice if leave is foreseeable
    • If leave isn’t foreseeable notice must be provided as soon as is practicable 
  • Foreseeable planned medical treatment for the employee’s serious health condition 
    • The employee must make a reasonable effort to schedule the treatment so as not to unduly disrupt the employer's operations, subject to health care provider approval, and;
    • Provide at least 30 days' notice. If the date of the treatment requires leave to begin in less than 30 days, the employee must provide such notice as is practicable.

Pregnancy Disability Leave

Washington employers also need to be aware of special considerations regarding pregnancy in the workplace. Under Washington Pregnancy Disability Leave, employers with eight or more employees must allow up to eight weeks of leave (as determined by a health care provider) to female employees who experience a temporary disability due to pregnancy or childbirth. 

Leave is paid, so long as the employer is also covered under Washington Paid Leave. The compensation for pregnancy leave is the same as paid leave as well. 

Important for employers to note is that employee health benefits must be maintained during the leave.

Military Family Leave

Washington Military Family Leave applies to all employers in the state and all employees who work an average of 20 or more hours per week and are the spouses of military personnel.

Using the leave, employees may take up to 15 days of time off, per deployment, during a spouse's deployment, or deployment leave during times of military conflict.

Employers should be aware that this leave can be used intermittently, and is unpaid. 

Employees on the other other hand must provide notice of intent to take such leave within five business days of the spouse receiving notice of deployment or deployment leave.

Jury Duty Leave

Washington employers are required to allow employees unpaid leave to serve as a juror. Employers may not take any kind of adverse action against an employee for doing so. 

For more information on Washington Jury Duty Leave, employers can contact the Washington Courts website.

Victim Leave

Washington Victim Leave provides leave to all employees in the state that are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking for the following reasons/uses:

  • Seek legal or law enforcement assistance or remedies to ensure the health and safety of the employee or employee's family members including, but not limited to, preparing for, or participating in, any civil or criminal legal proceeding related to or derived from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking
  • Seek treatment by a health care provider for physical or mental injuries caused by domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, or to attend to health care treatment for a victim who is the employee's family member
  • Obtain, or assist a family member in obtaining, services from a domestic violence shelter, rape crisis center, or other social services program for relief from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking
  • Obtain, or assist a family member in obtaining, mental health counseling related to an incident of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, in which the employee or the employee's family member was a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking
  • Participate in safety planning, temporarily or permanently relocate, or take other actions to increase the safety of the employee or employee's family members from future domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking

Employees should give notice of leave as soon as possible but are not required to do so until the first day of leave. The leave is not required to be paid, however, the employee may choose to use accrued paid sick leave to substitute for the unpaid leave.

Employee Benefits Laws

Washington employers must manage compliance with federal COBRA laws, as there currently is no mini-COBRA law for the state. However, employers should be aware of the new Washington Cares Program beginning in 2023.

Washington Cares Fund

While not yet finalized and established, employers in the state should familiarize themselves with the new Washington Cares Fund Program, a new earned benefit to ensure working Washingtonians can access long-term care when they need it.

Beginning in January 2023, exemption applications will be made available to certain groups, and in July 2023 employees will begin making contributions to the state fund. In July of 2026, benefits will become available for eligible individuals.

Health and Safety Laws

Employers must comply with safety and health laws either through the federal program administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or through an OSHA-approved state plan. Washington has an OSHA-approved safety and health state plan that covers private sector employees.

The Washington Department of Safety and Health (DOSH) is responsible for ensuring that employers provide safe and healthy working conditions for workers in the state.

DOSH Employer Requirements

Generally, employers are required to:

  • Report work-related incidents to DOSH that result in death or the in-patient hospitalization of any employee
    • The report must be made within 8 hours
  • Report work-related incidents to DOSH that result in a non-hospitalized amputation or loss of an eye
    • The report must be made within 24 hours
  • Report fatalities, in-patient hospitalizations, amputations, or loss of an eye by telephone to DOSH—1-800-4BE-SAFE
  • Record work-related injuries and illnesses that meet certain criteria using OSHA Forms 300, 300A and 301
  • Display OSHA 300A form from February 1 to April 30 of each year

Smoking and Tobacco Laws

Washington smoking and tobacco laws require employers to:

  • Prohibit smoking in places of employment, including restrooms, hallways, stairways, cafeterias, and meeting rooms
  • Prohibit smoking at least 25 feet from entrances, exits, windows that open, and ventilation intakes that serve an enclosed area 
  • Prohibit smoking in buildings and vehicles used by and that are open to the public
  • Display "no-smoking" signs at each building entrance. 
    • Retail stores must have signs posted conspicuously at each entrance and in prominent locations throughout the place

Discrimination Laws

In addition to federal discrimination laws, employers must also manage compliance with Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD).

Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD)

WLAD applies to employers with 8 or more employees in Washington. Covered employers are prohibited from taking any adverse employment action against an individual as a result of:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Marital status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Race
  • Creed
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Military status
  • Physical or mental disability

Postings, Notifications, and Recordkeeping Requirements

Washington has the following requirements for postings, notifications, and recordkeeping requirements.

Washington Labor Law Posting Requirements

Washington employers are generally responsible for displaying the following posters:

Employers who are self-insured, employers of churches or religious organizations, or fishing boat workers may have additional posting requirements. 

For help with labor law posting compliance, Washington businesses may want to consider a labor law poster subscription service. Contact a Washington HR company today to get started.

Washington Labor Law Recordkeeping Requirements

Washington requires employers to keep a variety of records for the following things:

  • Wages, Hours, and Payroll
  • Paid Sick Leave
  • Unemployment Insurance
  • Health and Safety 
  • Workers’ Compensation
  • Child Labor
  • State Paid Family and Medical Leave

Employers must also provide employees access to these records at least annually upon request. Records pertaining to payroll and exposure to toxic materials or harmful physical agents must always be available to employees.

Final Thoughts on Washington Labor Law Compliance

Managing compliance in any state, Washington more so than many, can be difficult for employers. Even more so, employers can't focus on the business of their business while managing compliance at the same time. 

For help managing compliance, Washington businesses may want to consider turning to a Washington Payroll and HR provider. For help finding a provider, contact us today. 

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Guest Author: Lori Brown

Lori B-modifiedLori Brown, CEO of PayNW a leading Washington payroll and HR services company, took the reins in September 2021 from founder Mike Anderson. Growing PayNW from $500K to $8M in annual revenue, Lori has maintained a 96% client retention rate, year over year. She is a talented leader, with extensive experience in payroll, Human Capital Management, Employee Retention Credit (ERC) efforts, and more. Lori was elected to the board of the Independent Payroll Processors Association in 2021 and is a Puget Sound Business Journal 40 Under 40 honoree. She is a mom of three and has been happily married for the past 20 years.

Topics:ComplianceState Labor LawsWashington Labor Laws

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