Your Worker’s Rights In Washington State
As a Washington State employee, you are entitled to 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 Washington State worker’s rights, what to do when they’re violated, and how hiring a skilled employment attorney can help you.
Basic Protections For Employees And Job Applicants
The Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. These laws protect you against:
- Harassment or discrimination against you because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.
- Denial of reasonable workplace accommodation because of your religion, disability, pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions.
- Retaliation after reporting discrimination or assisting with a discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
Other major federal laws that offer worker protections include (but aren’t limited to):
- The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
- The Occupational and Safety Health Act of 1970 (OSHA).
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
What Are My Washington State Worker’s Rights?
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 State employees are entitled to the following worker’s rights:
- Minimum wage: As of January 1, 2023, Washington State minimum wage is $15.74 an hour. If you work in Seattle, the minimum wage is $18.69 an hour, and in SeaTac hospitality and transportation employees are entitled to the minimum wage or$19.06 an hour. Non-exempt computer professionals receive $55.09 an hour.
- Seattle Paid Sick and Safe Time (PSST): This policy allows Washington State workers to take paid time off when they are sick, for domestic assault-related reasons, 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 (FCE): This prohibits discrimination against workers with criminal records. You cannot be asked about your record on an initial job application, and employers must consider your job experience before your record.
- Paid Family And Medical Leave: Washington State offers its own version of the federal FMLA program that pays workers while on leave. Workers can take leave up to 12 weeks to recuperate from a major surgery, during pregnancy, to receive treatment for a chronic health condition, or to receive inpatient care for substance abuse or mental health. You can also take paid time off to care for a new child, sick family member, or a family member who is about to be deployed overseas or is returning from overseas deployment. 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 and worked a minimum of 820 hours within your qualifying period.
- Overtime pay: 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.
- 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, paid 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, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation, national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.
- Washington State 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.
Seattle And SeaTac Worker’s Rights
Workers in Seattle and SeaTac also have added protections.
- Secure Scheduling: For Seattle retail and food service workers at establishments with more than 500 employees worldwide, city laws note that you should receive your schedule at least 14 days in advance. And if you work a “clopening” shift (closing and opening on the same shift in less than 10 hours), you are entitled to pay at a rate of time-and-a-half. 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; if the hotel has more than 100 rooms, employers must provide health benefits or similar compensation and give extra pay to cleaning staff that cleans 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. These rights include protection from sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination, 30-minute uninterrupted meal and 10-minute uninterrupted 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 original 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 of $0.64 per passenger platform minute for all passenger platform time for that trip, plus $1.50 per passenger platform mile for all passenger platform miles driven on that trip (or a minimum of $5.62 per dispatched trip), with tips paid on top of the minimum. Pay rates increase each year for the 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 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 State 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.
Do I Need To Hire An Employment Law Attorney?
If you have tried to work things out with your employer and nothing has been done, 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 employment attorney on your side to navigate the different laws and tactics an employer may use.
Want More Information?
As a Washington State employee, you are entitled to several protections and benefits under state and federal laws.
A document review is a comprehensive consultation and analysis of your document’s legal language, context, and impact on your Washington State worker’s rights.
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.