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Washington State Employment Law FAQs

Employment law in Washington State is complex (in fairness, it’s complex everywhere). The average employer or employee just doesn’t have the breadth of knowledge required to have a ready answer when questions inevitably arise. But as someone who gets asked these questions repeatedly, it wasn’t hard for me to compile a list of answers to the most commonly questions I hear.

I’m pleased to be able to share these answers with you now. Ideally, this post will evolve and grow as additional questions are posed. With that goal in mind, if you have a question, email me or ask in the comments below and I’ll see what I can do about adding it to this list.

Related: Questions You Can’t Ask Job Applicants In Washington

Frequently Asked Questions


What is the minimum wage in Washington?

As of January 1, 2019, the minimum wage in Washington State is $12 per hour. Starting on January 1, 2020, the minimum wage will rise to $13.50. Washington’s Minimum Wage Act can be found at RCW 49.46.005 to 49.46.920.

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What is the minimum wage in Seattle?

The minimum age in Seattle for small employers is $15 per hour. Small employers are those with 500 or fewer employees in the U.S. For large employers—those with more than 500 employees in the U.S.—the minimum wage in Seattle is $16 per hour.

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Do tips count toward minimum wage in Washington?

Tips do not count toward minimum wage requirements in Washington. However, in Seattle, small employers—i.e., those with 500 or fewer employees in the U.S.—can pay $12 in wages and then include tips or medical coverage to reach the city’s $15 minimum wage requirement.

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What are overtime pay requirements in Washington?

In Washington, a nonexempt employee must be paid at least 1.5 times the employee’s base rate of pay for every hour worked in excess of 40 hours in a single workweek. RCW 49.46.130. A workweek is any consecutive 7-day period; it is not tied to a calendar week.

Failure to pay overtime may result in back wages, civil penalties, and double damages for willful violations.

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Which employees are exempt from overtime pay requirements in Washington?

Certain types of employees are exempt from Washington’s overtime pay requirements. Only salaried employees may be exempt, but not all salaried employees are, in fact, exempt. The primary categories that are exempt are executive, administrative, professional, and outside salesperson.

Whether a given employee falls within these categories is a fact-specific question, but in general, employees with greater rates of pay and responsibility tend to qualify for exempt status, whereas employees who are paid a low hourly wage and have minimal responsibility are usually nonexempt.

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How often must employees be paid in Washington?

Employers in Washington must pay their employees all wages owed on an established regular pay day at least once a month. However, employers may choose to pay on a daily, weekly, bi-weekly, semi-monthly, or monthly basis.

Employers with pay periods of less than a month must set a regular pay day no longer than ten calendar days after the end of the pay period. For example, if an employer pays on a weekly basis and the workweek is from January 1-7, the employer must pay wages no later than January 17.

Employers with monthly pay periods may have a regular payroll system under which wages for work performed by an employee during the last seven days of the pay period may be withheld and included with wages paid on the pay day for the next pay period. For example, an employer establishes a monthly pay period starting on the 1st day of each month with an established pay day on the last day of the month. In a thirty-one day month, the employer must pay wages for work performed between the 1st and 24th days of the month on the established pay day (the last day of the month). The employer may pay wages for work performed between the 25th and 31st days of the current month on the following month’s pay day.

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Are wage statements required in Washington?

Washington employers, subject to certain exceptions, must provide wage statements to their employees that include the following information:

  • Basis of pay (e.g., hours worked).
  • Rate of pay.
  • Gross wages.
  • Deductions.

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Is paid sick leave mandatory in Washington?

Washington employers must provide paid sick leave to non-exempt employees, including part-time-full-time, seasonal, and temporary non-exempt employees.

Employees must accrue paid sick leave at a minimum rate of 1 hour for every 40 hours worked. Paid sick leave must be paid to employees at their normal hourly compensation, but employees are entitled to use paid sick leave only after the 90th calendar day after the start of their employment.

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Should you use independent contractors or hire employees?

This is a complicated question that deserved its own post, which you can find here: Independent Contractors vs. Employees In Washington State

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Are employee handbooks required in Washington?

Employee handbooks are not legally required in Washington. But employers, especially as they begin to expand their workforce, often choose to have employee handbooks as a convenient way to centralize company policies, guidelines, procedures, and the like.

It’s important to exercise caution in putting together employee handbooks, though, as they can create unintended contractual obligations to your employees. For example, some employers unintentionally create a “for-cause” relationship with their employees as a result of sloppy language in the handbook.

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Are non-compete agreements enforceable in Washington?

Historically in Washington, non-compete agreements were typically enforceable so long as their restrictions were “reasonable.” The question of what was “reasonable” was left for the courts to decide. However, effective January 1, 2020, new non-compete legislation will go into effect in Washington that will impose new limitations on their use and enforceability. You can find more information on these changes in the linked post below.

Related: Washington's New 2020 Non-Compete Law

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Does an employer own an employee's invention in Washington?

An employer will only own an employee’s invention in Washington if the employee is subject to an assignment provision. But even if there is an assignment provision in place, it won’t be effective if the following four requirements are met:

  1. The employee didn’t use the employer’s equipment, supplies, facilities, or trade secret information.
  2. The invention was developed entirely on the employee’s own time.
  3. The invention doesn’t relate directly to the employer’s business or to the employer’s actual or demonstrably anticipated research or development.
  4. The invention doesn’t result from any work the employee performs for the employer.

Finally, in order for an assignment provision to be effective, RCW 49.44.140 requires that the employer give the employee written notice that the agreement doesn’t apply to inventions that meet all four requirements listed above. This notice must be given at the time the assignment agreement is made, otherwise the agreement won’t be enforceable.

Related: Who Owns An Employee’s Inventions In Washington?

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Can you be fired for no reason in Washington?

Washington is an at-will employment state. This means that, in general, employment may be terminated by the employee or the employer at any time and for any reason, except for discriminatory reasons.

However, if the employer and employee agree that employment may only be terminated for cause, then there must be a good reason for an employee to be fired. If an employee is fired without good cause, the employee may be able to recover damages from her employer for breach of contract.

Related: Employee Offer Letters In Washington State

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Can you get unemployment benefits if you are fired in Washington?

The fact that an employee has been fired does not prevent the employee from being eligible to receive unemployment benefits in Washington, unless the employee was terminated for misconduct. Examples of misconduct include insubordination, tardiness, dishonesty, and breaking the law.

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Is severance pay required in Washington?

Severance pay is not required in Washington. Instead, it is a voluntary benefit that an employer may or may not choose to provide to its employees. Once an employer has agreed to provide severance pay, it must do so or may be liable for breach of contract.

Related: Severance Agreements In Washington State

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