Workers in Washington state are set to benefit from a range of new laws in 2020. From nation-leading minimum wages and overtime benefits to unprecedented restrictions on noncompete agreements, Washington is in many ways a great place to be employed.
But as many of those new worker protection laws go into effect and others are considered by legislators, employers are strategizing on how to keep down costs. Sometimes these changes strike a reasonable compromise with workers to ensure that the company can stay competitive while still providing reasonable pay and benefits. At other times, however, companies may attempt to skirt new laws in ways that cheat workers out of the new protections or benefits.
Washington Post columnist Karla L. Miller recently fielded reader questions about what to do when you suspect you are being cheated by your boss. Her answer: “Sometimes the most helpful advice I can offer is to go straight to an employment lawyer.”
One reader wrote that, when the Obama administration proposed to raise the overtime pay threshold to $47,476 in 2016, their employer switched many workers from salaried to hourly status. As a result, the new hourly employees had to start logging in and out of the office for work, breaks, and lunchtime, and working overtime became a rarity. When the proposed rule was eventually struck down, the employer didn’t switch the hourly employees back to salaried status.
In September 2019, the federal government finally ended up passing a new, albeit lower, overtime threshold of just over $35,500 (Washington state simultaneously passed its own new overtime rule). While many of the reader’s coworkers now qualify for salaried status again, their employer has not mentioned changing them back. “Do we have any recourse under the new rule to be returned to salaried status?” the reader asked.
Another reader, in their 50s, has been working at a large firm for decades and was recently “invited” to continue doing the same work, but as an independent contractor.
“I will lose all benefits and receive an hourly wage instead of a salary,” the reader said. “If I do not accept, I have been told I must leave. Is this legal?”
In both cases, the worker is asked to make significant sacrifices that can eat away at their quality of life. If properly represented, however, an employee has a better chance at negotiating an arrangement that protects their interests and is rooted in the law.
Emery | Reddy helps workers. Call us if you have an L&I, unfair pay practices, workers’ comp, injury, or employment law claim.