WA State Wage & Hour Laws
Worker’s rights include wages, breaks, scheduling and terminations.
For all the nitty-gritty details, visit L&I’s web page on Wage & Hour Laws HERE
Employees have a right under Washington law to take rest breaks and meal breaks. Employees under 18 and agricultural workers have different standards than those listed on this page. With only a few exceptions, an employee’s work schedule is set by their employer.
Employees must be allowed a paid rest period, free from duties, of at least 10 minutes for every 4 hours worked. Additionally:
- Employees cannot be required to work more than 3 hours without a rest break.
- Breaks must be scheduled as close to the midpoint of a work period as possible.
- Employers can require workers to stay on the job site during a rest break.
- Rest breaks taken are considered “hours worked” when calculating paid sick leave and overtime.
In some jobs, “mini” rest breaks can be taken instead of a scheduled rest break. These “mini” rest breaks must total at least 10 minutes over a 4-hour period.
Nursing mothers may have additional rights under federal law.
Health care workers may also have specific meal and rest period requirements.
Employees must be provided “reasonable access” to bathrooms and toilet facilities. Employers cannot restrict use of bathroom or toilet facilities to rigid time schedules (e.g., only during scheduled breaks), or impose unreasonable time use restrictions. (DOSH Directive 5.98)
Employees must be allowed a meal period when they work more than five hours in a shift. A meal period must be at least 30 minutes long and start between the second and fifth hour of the shift.
Depending on the length of the shift and the timing of the meal period provided, employees may also be entitled to additional meal periods. See WAC 296-126-092(2) and (3).
Paid meal periods
Employees must be paid for meal breaks if:
- They are required to remain on duty.
- The employer requires them to remain on-call on the premises or work site in the interest of the employer, even if they are not called back to duty.
- They are called back to work, interrupting the meal period.
Employees who are required to work or remain on duty during a meal break are still entitled to 30 total minutes of mealtime, excluding interruptions. The entire meal period must be paid regardless of the number of interruptions. Work performed during meal breaks is considered “hours worked” when calculating paid sick leave and overtime.
Unpaid meal periods
Employers are not required to pay for a meal break if an employee is free from all duties for their entire break. Employees can only be required to remain on the premises or work site during their meal period if they are completely free from work duties.
Unpaid meal breaks are not considered “hours worked.”
Additional meal periods for employees working extra hours/shifts
Employees working more than 3 hours beyond their scheduled shift are entitled to additional meal periods. Additional 30-minute meal periods must be given within five hours from the end of the first meal period and for each additional five hours worked.
Waivers and variances
- Employees can waive their meal break requirement if both they and their employer agree.
- Employees cannot waive rest break requirements.
- Employers may file a Variance Application (F700-089-000) to modify rest and meal break requirements.
For most employees, there are no state requirements regulating how and when they are scheduled. An employer has the right to change an employee’s schedule at any time, with or without notice. Employers are not required to give weekends or holidays off and can schedule mandatory overtime.
There are scheduling and overtime restrictions for:
- Certain health care workers.
- Large retailers, food service providers, and full service restaurants in the City of Seattle.
Employees have new rights, and employers have significant new responsibilities under Washington’s Paid Sick Leave law, which was passed by voters in 2016 as part of Initiative 1433. As of Jan. 1, 2018, employers in Washington State are required to provide paid sick leave to their employees.
Implementing a paid sick leave policy
- As an employer, you must offer paid sick leave for your employees. You have some choices about what your policy will include.
- Certain options require a written policy if you do not already have one.
- Your new or existing paid sick leave policy must meet or exceed the minimum requirements defined in state law.
- If a local ordinance requires more generous paid sick leave benefits for employees than state law, those requirements will apply.
- Even if you do not create a written paid sick leave policy, you still need to meet the minimum state requirements.
Paid sick leave policy minimum requirements
- At a minimum, you must provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked by an employee, regardless of full-time, part-time, temporary, or seasonal status.
- You must pay your employee’s normal hourly rate for paid sick leave hours that they use.
- You must allow your employees to use their paid sick leave to care for themselves or their family members no more than 90 days after they start working. Once employees become eligible to use accrued paid sick leave, you must make paid sick leave accruals available to employees for use in a manner consistent with your established payment intervals or leave records management system.
- Authorized uses of paid sick leave include:
- Illness or injury.
- Physical or mental health conditions.
- Doctor or dentist visits.
- Preventive care.
- Workplace, child’s school, or daycare closures ordered by a public official for any health-related reason.
- Leave that qualifies under Washington’s Domestic Violence Leave Act.
- Authorized uses of paid sick leave include:
- You must pay employees their paid sick leave in the same pay period that it was used, unless you require verification for absences exceeding three days.
- You must have written policy if you require verification.
- You must notify your employees of their paid sick leave rights by their first day of employment.
- You cannot require employees to cover their shift before taking paid sick leave.
- You cannot require an employee to work a substitute shift when they use paid sick leave time.
- If both the employee and employer agree, an employee can work a different shift, or trade shifts with another employee instead of using paid sick leave.
- Employees’ unused paid sick leave balances of 40 hours or less must carry over from year to year.
- You can offer a more generous carryover policy.
- Employees’ unused paid sick leave balances must be reinstated if an employee is terminated or leaves their job for any reason and returns to the same employer within 12 months.
- Paid sick leave balances are not required to be reinstated if they are paid in full to the employee when employment ends.
- Paid sick leave balances do not have to be cashed out or paid when employment ends, unless another state law or a collective bargaining agreement requires it.
- Employees who file a paid sick leave complaint under this new law cannot be retaliated against for filing a complaint.
Read all the details HERE
The 2022 Minimum Wage in the state of Washington is $14.49 per hour. Washington employers must pay most employees at least the minimum wage for every hour worked.
Who Qualifies for Minimum Wage?
Most agricultural and non-agricultural jobs qualify for the minimum wage.
Employers must pay employees the minimum wage for all hours worked as defined by state law. Hours worked includes opening and closing a business, required trainings, and meetings.
Employers can also pay some workers less than the state minimum wage, including:
- Minors 14 to 15 years old (no less than 85% of minimum wage).
- Workers who meet certain criteria (see below).
- Jobs that are exempt from the Minimum Wage Act.
Employers can apply for a sub-minimum wage certificate in the following areas:
- Certificated on-the-job learners (no less than 85% of minimum wage).
- Certificated student workers and student learners (no less than 75% of minimum wage).
- Certificated workers with disabilities.
- Certain apprentices.
Future Minimum Wage
Starting in Sept. 2020, L&I will make a cost-of-living adjustment to the minimum wage based on the federal Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). This new minimum wage will be announced on Sept. 30, and take effect Jan 1, 2021, and yearly thereafter.
Tips and Service Charges
Employers must pay all tips and service charges to employees, as defined under the Minimum Wage Act (RCW 49.46.020(3)).
Businesses may not use tips and service charges paid to an employee as part of an employee’s hourly minimum wage.
For additional information on Tips and Service charges, see policy ES.A.12.
While Washington is an at-will employment state, employers cannot fire or retaliate against an employee who exercises a protected right or files a complaint under certain employment laws.
State law gives employees protection in the following areas:
- Minimum Wage Act, including overtime, paid sick leave, and tips and service charges.
- Injured worker’s claims.
- Safety complaints.
- Discrimination in the workplace including sexual harassment and protected classes.
- Protected leave.
- Equal Pay and Opportunities Act including wage discussions and gender pay equality.
Depending on the situation, L&I will investigate your complaint or refer you to the appropriate agency. You may have additional rights against termination or retaliation under a collective bargaining agreement, in your employer’s policies, or under federal law. However, L&I does not have enforcement authority in these areas.
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.
Q. Is it legal to be fired from a job for no reason?
A. Washington is an at-will employment state. Businesses may fire any employee at any time, for any or no reason, as long as they are not violating any employee protection laws.
However, workers may request the reason for discharge by sending a written request to the business for a signed written statement of the reason for discharge and the effective date. See WAC 296-126-050(3) for details.
Q. Is it legal for a worker to be fired from their job without any notice?
A. The law does not require employers to give a worker notice before terminating their job. Employers are not required to give warnings or follow any particular steps before terminating an employee.
An employer cannot take adverse actions against an employee who exercises a protected right, files or intends to file a complaint, or who has discussed potential violations of their rights. Prohibited adverse actions may include:
- Terminating, suspending, demoting, or denying a promotion.
- Reducing hours or altering the employee’s work schedule.
- Reducing the employee’s rate of pay.
- Threatening to take, or taking action, based upon the immigration status of an employee or an employee’s family member.
- Subjecting the employee to discipline, including write-ups, verbal warnings, points, etc.
If you think that you have been retaliated against for exercising your rights under the minimum wage act you can download and fill out a Retaliation Complaint Form (Minimum Wage Act & Paid Sick Leave) (F700-199-000) and mail it to the address on the form or drop it off at any L&I office.