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More Washington workers can now place liens on employers who don’t pay up

Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/JanakaMaharageDharmasena

Vulnerable workers in Washington state have a new tool at their disposal in the fight against wage theft. 

The Washington Wage Recovery Act, signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in April, allows workers to place liens on the property of employers who owe them back pay. 

Wage liens discourage employers from hiding or transferring assets to avoid paying wages during pending legal disputes.

While construction workers and farmworkers have long been able to place wage liens on the properties and crops they harvest in Washington, the new law extends the tool to nearly all industries, such as janitorial, restaurants, retail and landscape maintenance, which are most vulnerable to wage theft. Women, foreign workers and workers of color are much more likely to be victims of wage theft than white male employees, according to Columbia Legal Services.

“This law means all Washington workers will have a real chance to get the wages they are owed,” Danielle Alvarado, Legal Director of the Fair Work Center, a nonprofit that provides free legal aid to low-wage workers, told CLS. “So often, when victims of wage theft come forward to demand their wages, employers do anything they can to drag things out. Workers too often find that by the time they get a judgment, it’s impossible to find employer assets to pay them. Not only can liens secure assets, but they can really get an employer’s attention and bring them to the table quickly to resolve these issues,” she added.

Since 2006, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has cited employers owing a total of $33.5 million in back wages, but about $18.6 million, or 45% of those citations have gone uncollected. While L&I has collected $25.5 million in pre-citation settlements, the cases that reach the L&I system represent only a small fraction of the wage theft in Washington, according to CLS.

If you have a workers’ comp, L&I, or other employment law claim, contact Emery Reddy. You won’t get better advice.

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