Your Right To Be Paid
Your Right To Be Paid
* This information sheet is provided as a resource for general education and is not provided for the purpose of giving legal advice of any kind.
Learn the Basics
1.1 Minimum Wage
Washington’s 2021 minimum wage is $13.69 per hour. 14- and 15-year-olds may be paid 85% of the minimum wage - $11.64 in 2021, and certificated student workers and student learners may be paid 75% of minimum wage ($10.27/hr.)
The minimum wage is the minimum amount an employer can pay you for each hour that you work, are being trained, are required to stay at the worksite, or commute between worksites on a single job. Washington’s minimum wage law covers almost all workers in both agricultural and non-agricultural jobs, and covers both documented and undocumented workers.
Raising the Bar! These two cities offer higher minimum wages under certain circumstances:
- SeaTac - The living wage rate in effect for hospitality and transportation industry employees within the City of SeaTac is $16.57 per hour in 2021, and will be adjusted each year for inflation.
- Seattle -Seattle’s minimum wage law is being phased in under a two-part schedule for large and small employers. The 2021 minimum wage rates, which cover all workers working in the City of Seattle are shown below. Get details here from Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards (https://www.seattle.gov/laborstandards/ordinances/minimum-wage).
Seattle Minimum Wage - 2021
Large Employers (500 or more employees) - $16.69/hour
Small Employers (fewer than 500 employees)
|Does employer pay toward medical benefits and/or does employee earn tips?|
Seattle Minimum Wage for Uber and Lyft Drivers
Seattle’s new TNC (Transportation Network Company) Driver Minimum Compensation law became law on January 1, 2021. The law requires TNCs like Uber and Lyft to pay a minimum per mile and per minute rate and provide certain other protections, like tip protection and a right to be provided personal protective equipment during the pandemic.
Starting on January 1, the minimum per mile rate is $1.33 and the minimum per minute amount is $0.32. The per minute rate increases monthly until it reaches $0.57 on April 1, 2021. For all trips, including if the customer or TNC cancels the trip, the driver must be paid a minimum of $5 per trip. Read more about the minimum compensation law at the City of Seattle's website.
FAQs: Minimum Wage
My employer says they only have to pay me the federal minimum wage. Is that true?
No. If there are differences between federal, state, or city minimum wages, your employer must pay you the highest wage that applies.
If my employer changes my shift at the last minute, do they have to pay me extra?
Depends on what city you work in. In Seattle, very large retail and food businesses must provide extra pay for schedule changes or to work shifts less than 10 hours apart (see the Secure Scheduling section of the Seattle Labor Standards ordinance). Outside of Seattle, an employer is not required by law to give you advance notice about your shift changing, or pay extra if they make your shift longer or shorter.
Can my employer ask me to work off the clock?
It is illegal for your employer to not pay you the minimum wage, or ask you to work “off-the-clock” (without pay).
1.2 Tips & Service Charges
In Washington State, employers must pay employees all tips, gratuities and service charges added to the customer’s bill, unless the bill says otherwise. Your employer is not allowed to count tips and service charges as part of your minimum wage payment. A valid tip pool cannot include an owner or manager. For more details, see Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) “Tips, Gratuities and Service Charges, (https://lni.wa.gov/workers-rights/wages/tips-and-service-charges).
FAQs: Tips and Service Charges
Are mandatory tip pools (required by the employer) allowed?
State law does not prohibit a tip pool amongst employees established by an employer. A tip pool established by an employer may not include individuals who are exempt from the definition of “employee” under Washington Statute RCW 49.46.010(3), such as managerial or supervisory workers, executive, administrative, or professional employees.
What are the requirements for service charges?
Service charges are a type of automatic charge added to a customer’s bill for services related to food, beverages, entertainment, or porterage. Employers must disclose the percentage of the service charge that is paid to the employee or employees serving the customer. This information must appear in an itemized receipt and in any menu provided to the customer. If any portion of a service charge is not clearly designated as being retained by the employer, it is due to the employee or employees serving the customer.
How soon after they are received must the employer pay tips, gratuities, and the employee portion of a service charge to their employees?
Cash tips and gratuities (or the share of tips and gratuities due to the employee from a pool), or the employee portion of a service charge received in cash, may be retained by the employee. If received by the employer (for instance, tips paid by credit card), the employer must pay tips, gratuities, and the employee portion of a service charge to the employee no later than wages earned in the same period are paid.
In most industries, you must be paid 1.5 times your regular rate of pay for all hours that you work over 40 in a seven-day workweek. For example, if you regularly earn $20 per hour and work 45 hours in one week, your pay rate would be $30 per hour for 5 hours of overtime.
Raising the Bar!
Washington State is raising the minimum wage and overtime threshhold (salary level) for workers who primarily perform “executive, administrative, and professional” (EAP) duties each year for the next 8 years. You must earn more than the following threshold to be denied overtime pay: if you work for an employer with 50 or less employees, the 2021 overtime salary threshold is $821.40/week ($42,712.80/year). For large businesses (51 or more employees) the 2021 overtime salary threshold is $958.30/week ($49,831.60/year) If you earn less than these thresholds, you are covered by state minimum wage and overtime rules. There are also changes in the thresholds for exempt computer professionals paid by the hour.
Find more information on the Washington State changes here: https://www.lni.wa.gov/workers-rights/wages/overtime/changes-to-overtime-rules
Do all workers qualify for overtime?
There are some types of workers who do not have the right to overtime pay. These include workers who live at their workplace, most agricultural employees, certain salaried employees, and true independent contractors. Sometimes, employers use the words “exempt” and “non-exempt” when referring to whether an employee is entitled to overtime. For more information call the Department of Labor and Industries at: (866)219-7321, or see: https://lni.wa.gov/workers-rights/wages/overtime/
Do I Still Get Overtime If I Choose To Take An Extra Shift?
Yes. Even if you volunteer to take an extra shift or trade a shift, your employer still has to pay you overtime for all hours that you work over 40 in a week. Your employer can’t have a policy that says you don’t get paid overtime unless it is approved or scheduled in advance.
Can My Employer Make Me Work Overtime?
Yes. Most employers can make you work overtime even if you don’t want to, and even on a day that you usually have off.
Health Care Workers Overtime
As of January 1, 2020, Washington has changed the nurses’ mandatory overtime law. Certain employees of health care facilities may not be required to work overtime, and cannot be compelled or forced to work beyond their regularly scheduled shift. Employees who work more than 12 consecutive hours must be given the option to have at least eight consecutive hours of uninterrupted time off. For more details on which employees and which hospitals will be covered as the law phases in, visit L&I webpage on Mandatory Nurse’s Overtime: https://lni.wa.gov/workers-rights/wages/overtime/mandatory-nurses-overtime.
What About Agreements To Take Time Off Later Instead Of Overtime Pay?
If you work for a public agency, you can request time off at a later time instead of being paid overtime wages in the pay period when you worked the overtime hours. This is sometimes called "comp time" or "exchange time."
- When you take the time off, it must be at the rate of at least 1.5 hours for each overtime hour worked.
- Comp or exchange time must be at your request
- If you do not use your comp time within the year, it must be paid out (cashed out) at the overtime rate.
1.4 Prevailing Wage
Prevailing wage is the hourly wage, expected benefits and overtime rates paid to the majority of workers employed on government construction projects in the largest city in each county in Washington State. Prevailing wage laws say that if the federal government or Washington State is funding your construction job, you must be paid the prevailing wage. You can look up the prevailing wage for your county and trade at: https://lni.wa.gov/licensing-permits/public-works-projects/workers
1.5 Rest Breaks
In Washington, most workers are entitled to rest breaks.
|Rest Break||Meal Break: Paid or Unpaid||Breast-feeding Break|
|How long?||10 min.||30 min.||As long as needed|
|How often?||Every 4 hours worked||1 for less than 11 hours total worked. 2 for more than 11 hours worked.||As frequently as needed|
|Is it paid?||Yes||Employer’s choice||No|
|Can it be split up?||Sometimes||
|Can you choose not to take it?||No||Yes||Yes|
Domestic Workers rest rights in Seattle:
Domestic workers in Seattle, both employees and independent contractors – working in private homes as a nanny, house cleaner, home care worker, gardener, cook, and/or household manager, have the following rights to rest breaks:
- A 30-minute uninterrupted meal break if you work for more than five hours in a shift in the same home
- A 10-minute uninterrupted rest break for every four hours of work in the same home
- If you can’t take a break, your employer must provide additional pay for the missed break
- If you are a live-in caregiver, you must receive a day of rest after working more than six days in a row
Raising the Bar ! New Meal and rest period rules for healthcare facility workers
A recent Washington law gives many health care facility employees more certain rules on meal and rest periods. The law covers most hourly and union employees involved in direct patient care.
- Meal and rest periods must be scheduled and uninterrupted unless there is an unforeseeable emergent circumstance, or a situation that could lead to an adverse effect on a patient.
- Interrupted rest breaks must include an additional 10 minutes of uninterrupted time and be given as early as possible.
- Employer must record all missed meal or rest periods and keep these records on file.
For more details visit L&I webpage on Mandatory Nurse’s Overtime and Rest Breaks: https://lni.wa.gov/workers-rights/wages/overtime/mandatory-nurses-overtime
1.6 Pay Periods, Pay Statements, Paycheck Deductions and Benefits
You must be paid at least once a month on a regularly scheduled payday. When you leave your job, your employer must pay you for all unpaid wages no later than the end of the next regular pay period. Each time you are paid, you must receive a written statement from your employer (usually a paycheck stub) that includes information about the pay period, hours of work, rate of pay and any deductions.
Washington requires employers to keep payroll records for at least three years, and employees have the right to request copies of these records. For more info on payroll records and pay stubs, see the L&I Payroll and Personnel Records webpage: https://lni.wa.gov/workers-rights/workplace-policies/payroll-and-personnel-records
Deductions from your pay are only legal if they are required or permitted by federal or state law or if you agree to them in advance. All deductions from your paycheck must be listed and explained on your paycheck stub. These deductions can include things like taxes, Social Security and Medicare, insurance, garnishments and union dues.
Your employer cannot deduct:
- Payments for loans, housing, transportation, tools or food without your permission.
- Payments, even with your permission, if they reduce your wages to below the minimum wage, or if the company makes a profit from selling you these things.
- Money for unemployment compensation.
- Money to pay for equipment that you accidentally lost or broke.
- Money to cover a cash register shortage – except during your final pay period and only if your employer can prove that you participated in counting the register before and after your shift and you were the only person using it.
TIP: You should keep your own records of the hours you have worked and what you believe you should be paid. This can help you if you ever need to file a wage theft claim.
Common benefits include health insurance, pension, 401K and other retirement plans, vacation leave, paid sick leave, paid maternity leave, childcare, club memberships and bonuses. An employer offers these in addition to wages or salary. They are usually optional unless your employment contract requires them or a city ordinance requires them.
New! Seattle Transit Benefit - Beginning January 2020, Seattle businesses with more than 20 employees must offer all employees a pre-tax payroll deduction for transit or van-pool expenses. The ordinance encourages commuters to use transit to reduce traffic and carbon emissions. Because the deduction is pre-tax, the law has the added benefit of lowering the tax bills for both workers and businesses. Employers offering full or partially-paid transit passes are exempt from this requirement. For more info, see Seattle OLS’s Commuter Benefits webpage: https://www.seattle.gov/laborstandards/ordinances/commuter-benefits
FAQs: Pay Deductions
What About Uniforms and Personal Protection Equipment and Clothing? What Does My Employer Have To Pay For?
Clothing that has an uncommon color, function, style or has a logo – i.e. is unusual in some way (like a cowboy hat, for instance), is usually considered a uniform and your employer has to pay for them. Your employer may not take money from your wages or require a deposit from you for your uniform. Some required clothing is not considered a uniform and you might have to pay for it. For instance, it is not considered a uniform if you are required to wear common colors for tops and bottoms, like a white top and black pants. For more information see this L&I website: www.lni.wa.gov/WorkplaceRights/LeaveBenefits/Uniforms For jobs where you could be injured, your employer is generally required to provide, free of cost to you, safety equipment such as protective gloves, helmets, goggles, and other clothing to protect you from injury or sickness on the job.
1.8 Firing and Other Terminations
If you’ve been fired, was it for a legal reason? Most non-union private sector workers are employed “at-will,” meaning that the employer can fire you for almost any, or no reason at all. However, most public sector (government agency) employees and most union workers cannot be fired unless their employer has followed certain procedures and/or can show they have a good reason to fire you.
Whether you are employed “at-will” or not, you cannot be fired for discriminatory reasons, retaliation for whistleblowing or filing a formal claim defending your workplace rights, or for concerted activity.
There are some important exceptions to these rules. Organizing and forming a union are not protected rights for all farm workers, domestic workers, independent contractors, supervisors (if they have the power to hire and fire employees), and confidential workers.
Did My Boss Have The Right To Fire Me?
In general, it is illegal to fire you:
- For organizing with other workers to try to improve working conditions, in person or online.
- For joining or forming a union with your co-workers, or for union membership or support.
- For filing a health, safety or other official complaint or advocating for other workplace rights.
- In Washington State because of your age, ancestry, citizenship status (if you are legally allowed to work in the United States), color, creed, disability, gender identity, genetic information, military status, national origin, political ideology, race, religion, sex, pregnancy, or sexual orientation.
- For refusing to give your employer your username and/or password to social media sites.
If you think your employer discriminated when firing you, you should file a complaint as soon as possible. Please see Chapter 3: Discrimination for information on filing a complaint. If you are in a union, check with your steward or representative about the discipline and dismissal process. If you work in the public sector, check with an attorney or your employer’s human resources department about dismissal rules.
When should I receive my final paycheck?
Your employer must pay you for all unpaid work hours in your last paycheck on your next regularly scheduled payday. Your employer cannot withhold your paycheck, for example, until you turn in your keys or uniform. If your employer does not pay you for any hours that you have worked, they are breaking the law.
Learn More: Firing and Terminations
More on Good Cause
If you quit because your working conditions were beyond what any reasonable person would tolerate, it may be considered a good cause. Before you quit, it’s a good idea to talk to an attorney, your union representative, or the ESD about whether your reason for quitting might qualify as good cause.
If you were fired through no fault of your own, such as not having the skills to do the job, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. If we decide you were fired or suspended for misconduct or gross misconduct, you will not qualify for unemployment benefits. See ESD rules here: https://esd.wa.gov/unemployment/laid-off-or-fired
Non-Compete Clauses in Employment Agreements
"Non-compete” agreements prohibit workers from joining or starting competing businesses, usually within set time periods or regions. These agreements currently cover approximately one out of every five workers, including 14% of workers earning less than $40,000 a year. While they are more common in high-skill jobs, they can be found across all occupations, industries, and income levels, including retail, hair styling and fast food.
As of January 1, 2020, a non-compete clause or non-compete agreement is only enforceable in Washington where the employee is earning more than $100,000 per year ($250,000 for independent contractors).
The minimum salary thresholds are also tied to inflation with new levels calculated each year. After January 1, 2020, any worker with a current non-compete agreement earning less than the limit is not bound and the agreement is not enforceable. Employers must disclose the terms of the non-compete in writing prior to or at the same time the employee accepts an offer.
Unemployment Insurance (UI) is a program managed by WA State that gives payments to qualified people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. These payments should help you pay your bills until you find a new job. To receive UI payments, you must file a weekly claim. For detailed information on Unemployment Insurance, read on and visit the Washington State Employment Security Department’s homepage: https://esd.wa.gov/unemployment
Coronavirus and Unemployment
If you have Coronavirus or have been quarantined for Coronavirus and do not have paid sick leave (see Chapter 2), you may qualify for unemployment under a Washington Employment Security Emergency Rule (March 2020). In March 2021, the federal government announced that workers whose UI benefits were denied because they refused to return to unsafe workplaces, or turned down positions because of those concerns, would be eligible for unemployment through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. Unemployed independent contractors and Gig Workers can also quality for special pandemic unemployment benefits. See ESD's COVID-19 Information page https://esd.wa.gov/newsroom/covid-19
Do I qualify for Unemployment Insurance (UI)?
Generally, you qualify for unemployment benefits if:
- You lose your job through no fault of your own.
- You worked at least 680 hours (about 1/3 of a year, full time) the previous year.
- You have documentation that allows you to work legally in the USA.
- You were laid off or your hours were reduced due to lack of work.
- You are physically and mentally able to work.
- You are available for and actively seeking a new job.
Special circumstances may also qualify a person for unemployment insurance benefits. These include: Domestic violence or stalking victims who voluntarily leave work to protect themselves or their families; In some cases, people who voluntarily leave their jobs because their spouses are transferred; Union workers who are not working because of a lockout during contract negotiations.
What if I quit my job?
You still may be able to receive unemployment insurance if you had a legally-recognized "good cause" reason to quit under extremely difficult circumstances. There is also a list of “good-cause” reasons in the Handbook for Unemployed workers from the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD). https://esd.wa.gov/unemployment
Who Does Not Qualify For Unemployment Benefits?
People who were working as the following are probably not eligible for benefits:
- Independent contractors (See Learn More section for details)
- Independent salespeople who work on commission away from their employer’s office location.
- School employees in between terms.
- Union members on strike, or union members honoring another union’s strike.
- Elected government officials.
- Church employees.
- Amateur sports officials, like umpires and referees.
- Work-study students.
- Licensed real-estate agents, brokers and investment company agents.
- Travel agents paid on commission.
1.10 Seattle’s Secure Scheduling--Raising the Bar!
Seattle’s recent Secure Scheduling Law was written to encourage predictable schedules at work. Some aspects of the law require extra pay for workers who are asked to work more or fewer hours than they were scheduled for, or to work a “clopening” without sufficient rest between shifts.
The law applies to:
- Retail and food service establishments with 500+ employees worldwide
- Full service restaurants with 500+ employees and 40+ full-service restaurant locations worldwide
If you work for a qualifying business, your employer MUST:
- Post your schedule 14 days in advance
- Provide extra pay for changes made to the posted schedule (except for shift swaps you request)
- Let you decline closing and opening shifts that are less than 10 hours apart, and if you choose to work it, they must pay you time-and-a-half for any hours worked that are separated by less than 10 hours.
- Offer extra hours to current employees before hiring new employees
- Provide you with an estimated number of hours you can expect to work over the coming year
- Grant scheduling requests made before the work schedule is posted if it is for reasons related to a major life event (employee’s transportation, housing, other job(s), education, caregiving, and self-care for serious health condition), unless it would cause the employer significant cost or disruption (as defined in the ordinance).
To learn more about your right to Secure Scheduling in Seattle, go to the Office of Labor Standards website: https://www.seattle.gov/laborstandards/ordinances/secure-scheduling
1.11 What If My Employer Did Not Pay Me What I'm Owed?
When your employer does not pay you the correct amount that is called wage theft. Wage theft is illegal.
Wage theft includes:
- Not paying you for all the hours you work
- Not paying you your last paycheck after you leave a job
- Not paying you overtime
- Not allowing you to take your paid rest break paying you extra for missed breaks
- Forcing you to work “off the clock”
- Not paying minimum wage
- Not paying you the amount you agreed upon
- Stealing your tips or your portion of a service charge
- Illegally deducting business expenses from your paycheck
If you think it’s possible that you have not been getting paid what you earned, here are some options:
- Contact your Union Representative, the WA State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), or your local Wage & Hour Enforcement Agency;
- Talk with a Community Group;
- Take Your Employer to Court for Unpaid Wages;
- File a Lien against the Property Where You Worked.
FAQs: Wage Theft
How do I prove my employer is stealing from me?
It is important that you keep records about your employer and your work (schedule, tips earned, overtime, etc.). Your records are evidence in a claim for unpaid wages. If your employer doesn’t keep a record of your work, a judge or government investigator will rely on the records you keep as evidence.
Did You Know?
“Non-compete” agreements, which prohibit workers from quitting to work for another employer in the same industry, currently cover one out of every five workers, including 14% of workers earning less than $40,000 a year. While they are more common in high-skill jobs, they can be found across all occupations, industries, and income levels, including retail, hair styling and fast food.