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Frequently Asked Employment Law Questions

Employment law violations are all too common and can leave you feeling ashamed, confused, angry, anxious, and afraid. All workers have rights and the experienced employment law attorneys at Emery | Reddy, PLLC are here to answer the most frequently asked questions about those rights and how to handle employment law violations.

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Can I Sue My Employer?

While you can’t normally sue your employer for a work injury, there is an exception to this rule in Washington State law under “Action against employer for intentional injury” RCW 51.24.020. These claims are not easy—the legal code requires that:

  • An employer had certain knowledge that the worker would sustain an injury.
  • The employer willfully disregarded that knowledge by taking no action and providing no warning, of the hazard.

This means that you can only sue your employer for a work-related injury if you can prove that they knew you would get hurt and chose to do nothing about it.

Can My Employer Pay Me Less Than Minimum Wage?

The 2023 statewide minimum wage for Washington workers aged 16 and older is $15.74 per hour, with some exceptions:

  • 14- and 15-year-olds: Workers within this age range can receive 85% of state minimum wage ($13.38 in 2023)
  • Seattle workers: Employees within the City of Seattle have a higher minimum wage of $18.69 per hour in 2023.
  • SeaTac hospitality and transportation employees: Hotel and transportation employees within the city limits of SeaTac earn $19.06 an hour in 2023.
  • Computer professionals: Exempt computer programmers and other computer professionals earn $55.09 per hour in 2023.

wage and hour law books

Do I Qualify For Overtime Wages?

All non-exempt hourly workers in Washington State are entitled to overtime pay at 1.5x their wage for every hour worked over 40 hours in a work week. The law also includes overtime pay for agricultural workers who clock over 55 hours a week.

Am I Required To Sign A Non-Compete?

No. In fact, if you signed a non-compete contract after January 1, 2020 you may be entitled to compensation. The Washington State Non-Compete Law states that W-2 employees who earned less than $100,000 per year and independent contractors who made under $250,000 a year in 2020. In 2021, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) increased the earnings thresholds to $101,390 for employees and $253,475 for contractors.

What Is An At-Will Employment State?

Washington State is an at-will employment state. At-will employment means that employers do not need to establish cause or give notice before firing an employee. That being said, it is against the law for an employer to fire or retaliate against an employee for discussing or filing a complaint about a violation of their protected rights.

What Is A Class Action Law Suit?

A class-action lawsuit is a civil lawsuit brought on behalf of a group of people or business entities who have suffered common injuries as a result of the defendant’s conduct with at least one individual or entity acting as a representative of that group. One of the major benefits of participating in a class action lawsuit is that each plaintiff gets a fair distribution of the damages. When there are multiple lawsuits, the first few plaintiffs to win may get the majority of assets of the defendant leaving little to no money for those who win their cases later.

Was I Wrongfully Terminated?

Despite the fact that Washington State is an at-will employment state, there are a wide number of statutory and common law circumstances where an employer may be liable for terminating an employee. For example, a Washington State employer cannot terminate an employee for taking actions that follow public policy, such as whistleblowing to alert the public or regulatory agencies of misconduct within the company. The Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal laws that protect you against harassment or discrimination because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation, national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information, or from retaliating against that worker if they file a complaint about one of those prohibited practices.

Is My Employer Required To Accommodate My Disability?

If you request a reasonable accommodation, your employer must work with you to come up with a solution that allows you to continue working. However few employers know the law in this area, and many others refuse to follow it. If your accommodation request has been denied or your employer took adverse action against you following that request, call us today so we can help. We have a long track record of bringing successful lawsuits against employers for ADA violations.

What Is The Difference Between An Employee And An Independent Contractor?

Employees are workers who perform services for an employer under the direction and control of the employer. The employer has the right to direct and control the work performed by the employee, including how the work is done as well as when and where it is done.

Independent contractors are workers who perform services for a particular business or organization but who are not employees of those organizations. Independent contractors are typically hired to complete specific tasks or projects, and they are not under the official direction and control of the business or organization hiring them.

What Is The Family And Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

The FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.

What Is The Americans With Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities from discrimination. If you request a reasonable accommodation, your employer must work with you to come up with a solution that allows you to continue working. However few employers know the law in this area, and many others refuse to follow it. If your accommodation request has been denied or your employer took adverse action against you following that request, call us today so we can help. We have a long track record of bringing successful lawsuits against employers for ADA violations.

What Is The Silenced No More Act?

In 2022, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed into law the Silenced No More Act (HB1795), which limits the use of workplace non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements, commonly known as NDAs. Under the new law, employees and independent contractors throughout the state can no longer be forced to stay quiet about certain unlawful workplace mistreatment.

What Is OSHA?

With the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance. To learn more visit OSHA online.

What If My Personal Information Is Stolen Due To A Data Breach?

Businesses have an obligation to their customers to protect their data and inform them if something happens to it. Most companies will usually offer privacy and data breach victims free credit or identity monitoring for a year or two. In some cases, this is enough. But if a business loses customer data in a cyberattack and further investigation reveals it was because of poor cybersecurity systems, it could potentially be sued in a class action lawsuit.

What If I Am Having Union Disputes?

Many union contracts greatly benefit workers; however, unions sometimes fail to enforce the Collective Bargaining Agreement on behalf of their members or discriminate against individual members. If you are experiencing union issues or are involved in a union-related dispute, you may also wish to contact the National Labor Relations Board. This federal agency administers the National Labor Relations Act, the principle law governing relations between private-sector employers and unions.

What Is Salary Transparency?

Salary transparency means that employers must post clear salary information on all Washington State job applications under the updated Washington Equal Pay and Opportunities Act (EPOA). The pay transparency law applies to any employer that does business in Washington with 15+ employees and at least one of those employees is Washington-based. Any employer breaking the law could entitle you to $5,000 in damages, as well as attorney’s fees and employer fines.

know your rights workers rights on chalkboard next to glasses

Workers’ Rights In Washington State

Washington State employees are protected by several state and federal laws and are provided certain workers’ rights. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is one of the federal bodies that make and regulate the laws that protect workers’ rights. Some of those protections for workers include:

  • Receiving equal pay for equal work.
  • Receiving reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs, disability, or pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
  • Not being sexually harassed or discriminated against for your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.
  • Reporting discrimination or other labor violations without fear of retaliation.

Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) protects workers further by ensuring that employees:

  • Work in a safe and healthy environment,
  • Receive meal and rest breaks,
  • Be paid at least minimum wage for all hours worked,
  • Receive overtime pay for hours worked over 40 in a workweek,
  • Accrue, and be allowed to use, paid sick leave hours,
  • Be paid tips and service charges, and
  • Be able to discuss potential violations of these rights with your employer.

What To Do When Your Rights Are Violated

It can be scary, confusing, and upsetting when you’re facing harassment or discrimination at work, have been wrongfully terminated, or have had your paycheck shorted with no explanation. Here are some tips for how to handle workplace employment violations.

Documentation: A case requires evidence, so it is important to document everything in writing, including notes taken by hand, and to keep copies at home (not at work) in a digital format along with a hard copy. State the facts of what happened, including:

  • Who was involved and nearby,
  • Where the incident took place,
  • The time and date, and
  • Witness statements.

A note about recording: Washington is a two-party consent state, which means you cannot record another person without their permission.

Read your employee handbook: If your employer has an employee manual or handbook, it’s important to read through it and keep a copy of it at home. Not only do employers outline their policies and procedures, but many will also have a process for dealing with workplace issues that are detailed within, like how to report it and to whom. Reading your employee handbook can answer a lot of questions and leave you better prepared if you end up needing to consult an employment attorney.

Contact Human Resources: Most companies require their employees to report workplace issues to Human Resources (HR) as a first step. Besides hiring new employees and managing benefits, HR representatives are trained to help resolve problems at work, from disagreements with co-workers to more serious concerns like harassment or safety violations. Their loyalty lies with the company, however, and if they aren’t taking your claim seriously, it may be time to contact an employment attorney.

Visit the EEOC and L&I websites: The EEOC lists the federal laws and regulations that employers must follow. Additionally, while most people think of L&I as the Washington workers’ compensation organization, it also oversees Washington State laws and regulations regarding workers’ rights. Reviewing both websites can educate you further on your rights and help you decide if you need to consult with an employment attorney.

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Do I Need To Hire An Employment Law Attorney?

If you have tried to work things out with your employer and they are still violating your rights, then it’s time to consult with an experienced Seattle employment law attorney. They can help you determine if you have a case and what your options are. If needed, they can help you bring the case to court or help you negotiate a deal with your employer without ever stepping into a courtroom.

Employment law is complicated and can be overwhelming for anyone not familiar with it. Trying to hold a company accountable for bad business practices requires a skilled attorney on your side to navigate the different laws and tactics an employer may use.

Want More Information?

Workers’ Rights 

As a Washington State employee, you are entitled to several protections and benefits under state and federal laws.

Document Review

A document review is a comprehensive consultation and analysis of your document’s legal language, context, and impact on your worker’s rights as an employee of Washington State.

Workplace Discrimination

Washington State law protects all people from discriminatory and unfair practices in the workplace.

Meet The Team

The Seattle employment law attorneys at Emery | Reddy, PLLC are passionate about helping workers with employment law issues and L&I claims. We Help Workers®: it’s our motto and what drives us every day.

We know how companies think, and we understand the tactics they use. Our employment law attorneys use that knowledge coupled with over two decades of experience to help our clients get access to the benefits to which they are legally entitled and hold employers accountable when they break the law.

If you’re struggling with an employment law issue, injury, or L&I claim, please call us and see how Emery | Reddy can help you today.

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Timothy W. Emery

emery reddy attorney patrick reddy headshot

Patrick B. Reddy

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Karolina S. Arthur

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Paul Cipriani, Jr.

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