Washington Labor Laws

Updated: 04/14/2020

Washington Minimum Wage

As of January 1, 2020, Washington state's minimum wage is $13.50 per hour, with indexing for annual minimum wage increase consideration scheduled to begin January 1, 2021.

USA map with Washington superimposed

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History of Washington Labor Laws

  • Washington state set its first minimum wage requirements in 1961.
  • In 1919, a strike that affected 35,000 dock workers failed but resulted in a stronger union.
  • Struggles in the 1930s led to more union strength in Washington and set a tone of protecting workers that carried through to modern times.
  • In 2016, a public referendum to raise minimums through 2020 and allow indexing beginning in 2021 was passed. As part of that vote, Washington further strengthened worker protections with a required paid sick leave accrual law that became effective in 2018.

Municipality Minimum Wage Laws

Several cities in Washington state have enacted local minimum wage ordinances. Seattle, Seatac, and Tacoma all have higher local minimum wage rates than the state minimum.

Seattle
Seattle passed a local minimum wage rule in 2014. As of January 1, 2020, for large employers (those with more than 500 employees), the minimum wage in Seattle is $16.39 per hour with no subminimum wage allowed for tipped workers. The rate is indexed to a Consumer Price Index rate for annual change consideration.

Smaller employers (those with 500 or fewer employees) in Seattle have a minimum wage rate of $15.75 per hour effective January 1, 2020, with the paid rate rising in January 2021 to match the large employer rate. Indexing begins in 2022 for smaller employers.

Smaller employers may take tip credits through 2024. However, the rate is being reduced each year until it is phased out for Seattle in 2025. In 2020, smaller employers pay a $13.50 per hour subminimum wage to tipped employees.

Seatac
Seatac's local minimum wage is $16.34 per hour, with no substandard tipped wage. The rate has annual indexing based on August-to-August numbers, and any changes are effective each January. Unlike other localities, the local minimum wage in Seatac is applicable only to hospitality and transportation workers.

Tacoma
Tacoma's local minimum wage as of January 1, 2020, is $13.50 per hour, with annual indexing for potential increases. This rate is equal to Washington state's minimum wage as of 2020 and may be superseded by the Washington state wage should it raise higher than Tacoma.

However, Tacoma sets the local tipped wage rates as the same as the regular minimum wage, so some employers may be subject to Washington state standard minimum wage rules as well as Tacoma tipped wage rates.

Washington Minimum Wage Law Exemptions

Washington's minimum wage law has several exemptions to minimum wage and several substandard minimum wage clauses. Each municipality with minimum wage laws may have different exclusions, so nonexempt employees for state and city may be different. The law that is more favorable to employees should be followed.

Most common Washington State minimum wage exemptions:

Exempted Group Alternate Wage Requirement Explanation
Apprentices Individually set by the director if special certificate applied for and received. Eligibility limited to apprentices with qualifying apprentice agreements that have been approved by the apprenticeship council.
Learners Rate no lower than 85% of the current minimum wage for a designated learning period. Applications are required for each employer facility wishing to employ learners. Employers must be able to show experienced workers are not available and learning periods may vary by industry.
Mental, physical or age challenges Individually set by the director if a special certificate is obtained. This subminimum wage rate is being phased out as of July 1, 2020. Existing variances for paying subminimum wages in these instances will expire June 30, 2020.
Minors 85% of the current state minimum wage rate. Note that in some cases local municipalities may have minimum wage rates where 85% of state minimum wage is lower than the required minimum wage for the municipality.
Per-piece harvest laborers Exempt from state minimum wage law. Must be in a qualifying region and meet other qualifications.

Washington Posting Requirements

Required Posters:

  • Domestic Violence Resources
  • Safety and Health Protection on the Job
  • Your Rights as a Worker
  • Unemployment Insurance
  • Workers' Compensation

Additional Posters:

  • Workers' Compensation for Self-Insured

Tipped Wage in Washington

Washington does not allow tip credits. That means tipped employees must be paid the same state minimum wage as other workers. However, municipal ordinances may provide for a higher subminimum wage than the standard state minimum.

Further, Washington does not allow any tips to be taken by an employer. Even in the case of a no tipping policy, nothing the customer intends for the employee may be taken by the employer. The only tips that may be handled by an employer are those in a tip pool, and all monies are distributed back to the employees.

Service fees and charges automatically added to bills usually must be given to employees. When the charges are worded in such a way that a customer would likely believe that the fee is intended for a service employee, the employer may not keep it. Some examples of such fees are those labeled as "service charge," "gratuity," "delivery charge," "porterage" or "large party."

Overtime Wage in Washington

Washington state overtime law requires that nonexempt workers be paid at least time and a half of their regular pay rate for any hours worked over 40 in a workweek.

In addition to any applicable FLSA exemptions, those exempt from minimum wage rules in Washington are also exempt from overtime rules.

Washington allows comp time (compensatory time), but the use of comp time is not part of the determining factors when deciding if someone is exempt from overtime pay.

Furthermore, certain air carriers, sea vessels and roadway vehicle drivers are exempt. In many cases, this is because stricter federal rules already cover them. Likewise, those employed in industries where federal law includes standards for overtime based on other than 40-hour workweeks are exempt from Washington state overtime rules.

Individual farm workers, seasonal entertainment workers, real estate brokers and movie projectionists may also be exempted if qualifications are met.

Child Labor Laws in Washington

Washington state allows those aged 14 or 15 to be paid 85% of the state minimum wage rate. However, this rule may not be applicable in municipalities with higher minimum wages or rules disallowing substandard minimum wage rates for minors.

Like most states, Washington restricts minors from working in specific industries and jobs deemed hazardous based on the age of the minor, and it regulates hours and times worked. Hours that can be worked are discussed in detail in the frequently asked questions below.

Some hazardous duties for minors that are restricted are common in businesses commonly employing children, such as grocery stores and restaurants. The separation of dangerous responsibilities not only by age but by industry makes it vital for employers to verify the restrictions for their specific situation rather than rely on generalities.

Just as Washington breaks out hazardous duties by industry, whether or not a work permit is required varies greatly by minor age and the job duties/industry involved. Each employer should verify the requirements applicable to their specific situation. Also, school and/or parental permissions must be obtained.

Regardless of work permit requirements, every employer of minors must verify the minor's age and keep qualified documentation on file.

In general, those under age 14 can not work except in some situations and jobs. Agricultural rules allow for younger workers than non-agricultural jobs in general, and there is a family farm exemption in some cases.

Work categories are further designated for 14- to 15-year-olds and 16- to 17-year-olds, as are hours allowed per week and when those hours can be worked.

Washington requires work breaks and meal breaks be provided to minors with the exact schedule based on age and time worked.

Employer Recordkeeping Requirements

Washington requires employers to keep necessary payroll records and make them available for inspection at any time, along with a sworn statement when requested.

Records should include name, address, occupation, rate of pay, pay for each pay period, and hours worked daily and weekly.

Recent Washington Labor Law Updates

While labor laws have remained relatively stable from 2017 to 2020, several poster changes have taken place.

Mandatory - December 2019

Updates to the paid family leave and medical poster.

Mandatory - August 2019

Updates to the Domestic Violence Resources Information.

Mandatory - May 2019

New paid family leave and medical information required on the Summary of Workplace Rights poster.

Mandatory - October 2017

Your Rights as a Worker poster needed information on 2018 Paid Sick Leave Law added.

Washington Labor Law Frequently Asked Questions

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