Know Your Employee Rights – An Employment Lawyer’s Guide to Washington Workers’ Rights
Do you know your worker rights in Washington state?
As a Washington employee, you are entitled to several protections and benefits under State and Federal laws. Everyone deserves to be paid fairly, work free of discrimination and harassment, and perform their job in a safe work environment. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen, and many people don’t know what to do, or even what their rights are. In this guide, we’ve outlined your basic rights, what to do when they’re violated, and how hiring a skilled employment attorney can help you.
Basic worker rights and protections for employees and job applicants
The Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the government organization that oversees some federal labor laws, notes that you have a right to:
- Receive equal pay for equal work
- Not be sexually harassed or discriminated against because of your age, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, or genetic information
- Reasonable accommodations for medical or religious reasons
- Keep your medical or genetic information private
- Report discrimination violations without retaliation
Other major federal laws that offer worker protections include (but aren’t limited to):
- Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- The Occupational and Safety Health Act of 1970 (OSHA)
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
What are my worker rights in Washington?
In recent years, Washington State has taken a progressive approach towards labor laws and protecting employees that go a step further than current national laws. In addition to Federal protections, Washington employees are entitled to the following worker rights:
- Minimum wage – as of January 1, 2022, Washington State has the highest minimum wage in the United States at $14.49 an hour. If you work in Seattle, the minimum wage is $15.75 an hour (up to $17.27 depending on company size), and if you work in certain hospitality and transportation positions in SeaTac, the minimum wage is $17.24 an hour. Non-exempt computer professionals receive $50.72 an hour.
- Paid sick and safe time – this policy allows Washington workers to take paid time off when they are sick or to care for a sick family member. You do not need to provide a doctor’s note. Workers earn one hour of sick and safe time for every 40 hours worked for a total of 6.5 days per year.
- Fair chance employment – prohibits discrimination against workers with criminal records. You cannot be asked about your record on a job application and employers must consider your job experience before your record.
- Paid family & medical leave – Passed in 2019, Washington state now offers its own version of the federal FMLA program that pays workers while on leave. Workers can take leave for a total of 12-18 weeks to recuperate from a long-term illness or care for a new child or sick family member and will receive up to $1000 a week while on leave. The amount of pay you receive weekly is based on a calculator from the Employment Security Department. Not everyone qualifies though; you must have been employed with your employer for at least one year, worked a minimum of 1,250 hours within the last 12 months, and your employer has 50 or more employees.
- Overtime pay – All non-exempt hourly workers in Washington are entitled to overtime pay at 1.5x their wage for every hour worked over 40 hours in a work week. So if you worked 45 hours at $15 an hour, your pay for the week would be $712.50 (($15/hr x 1.5 = $22.50/hr) x 5 hours overtime) + (40hrs x $15/hr) = $112.50 + $600). The law also includes overtime pay for agricultural workers who clock more than 55 hours a week.
- Wage theft protection – You deserve to be paid on time, and the wage you were promised. Wage theft happens when you aren’t paid the rate you were promised, at least minimum wage, or compensated properly for overtime and breaks. If you are consistently finding your paycheck incorrect, you may be the victim of wage theft and have the right to hold your employer accountable.
- Harassment and discrimination protections – Washington state and federal laws give you the right to work free of discrimination and harassment based on race, sex, gender identity, age, sexual orientation, religion, nation of origin, or disability.
Seattle and SeaTac Workers’ Rights
Additionally, workers in Seattle and SeaTac also have added protections.
- Secure scheduling – for Seattle restaurant and food service workers at chains with more than 500 employees, city laws note that you should receive your schedule at least 14 days in advance. If your manager asks you to work a shift not on your schedule or cancels a shift, you are owed pay for that shift too, called “predictability pay.” And if you work a “clopening” shift (closing and opening on the same shift in less than 10 hours), you have the right to refuse that shift. Lastly, managers should offer you the chance to work extra hours before hiring part-time staff.
- Health & Safety standards for hotel workers – protections are also in place for Seattle hotel staff. Hotels with 60+ rooms must give employees access to panic buttons and other protections against sexual harassment and assault, and if the hotel has more than 100 rooms, employers must provide health benefits or similar compensation and give extra pay to cleaning staff that clean more than 5,000 square feet in an 8-hour shift.
- Domestic worker protections – Nannies, house cleaners, home care workers, gardeners, cooks, au pairs, or household managers in Seattle are often independent contractors and therefore don’t qualify for some federal and state protections, but they have rights too. Protection from sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination, uninterrupted meal and rest breaks (or more pay if you don’t get a break), paid Seattle minimum wage, and one day off every six consecutive days for live-in workers. Additionally, workers are allowed to keep their documents and personal effects.
- TNC driver pay standard – Transportation Network Company (TNC) drivers that work for companies like Uber or Lyft have the right to earn a minimum rate for each trip in Seattle ($1.38 per mile + $0.59 per minute, with a minimum of $5.17), with tips paid on top of the minimum. Pay rates increase each year for cost of living. Additionally, if you are “deactivated” by the TNC, you have the right to appeal that decision and seek representation under the TNC Deactivation Ordinance. Regardless of whether you’re an independent contractor working for a TNC or not, you’re guaranteed these rights.
What to do when your worker rights are violated
Many people aren’t aware of their rights as an employee, and we hope that this guide has helped you understand a bit more about them. If you think your rights have been violated, there are some things you can do.
First, you’ll need to gather some evidence. This can be text messages, emails, printed letters or handwritten notes. Keep copies of your documentation at home and store any digital information on a separate device that does not belong to your employer. It’s also a good idea to take some time and write down the facts of the situation. Try to keep it emotionless as possible, and note the dates, times, locations, who was present at the time, and what happened in as much detail as possible. You can write all of this down in a simple notebook or type it up on a computer.
If there are witnesses, have them write down their experience and give it to you, or get their contact information so you can reach them later.
Next, you can try to contact your company’s HR team, if they have one. This is usually a good place to start, as they are (usually) knowledgeable about company policies and current laws. If your company or industry has a union, this is also a good place to go.
Certain violations can be reported to the EEOC or Washington Labor & Industries. Keep in mind that these entities may have to alert your boss that you filed a complaint.
Do you need an attorney to help with worker rights violations?
Sometimes, hiring an attorney is the best thing to do once you’ve gathered your evidence and collected your thoughts. A good employment attorney understands the intricacies and challenges of employment law and employee rights and will help you hold your employer accountable and advocate for a positive outcome.
When you hire an attorney to review your case, they’ll look at every aspect and determine which laws are being broken. Hiring an attorney can also help your coworkers too; if a company is violating the rights of one employee, they’re most likely violating the rights of your coworkers too.
You may think that hiring an employment attorney is a drastic step, but your rights are important! If you are undocumented, speak another language, or have a criminal background, you may feel even less inclined to hire an attorney, but please know that your status or record has no bearing on your worth as a human being and doesn’t exclude you from having rights.
If your rights are being violated, please contact the employment attorneys at Emery Reddy today for a free case consultation. Our legal team will help you determine if you have a case or need more evidence, help you learn more about your rights, and understand what your options are. With over twenty years of experience in employment law and workers compensation, we’ve helped win millions of dollars for our clients and change labor laws in Washington for the better. Contact us today!