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Washington State Employment Law Overview
This material is intended to provide only a general overview of some aspects of employment law in Washington State. It is no substitute for an attorney’s advice regarding the circumstances of your particular case. Facts that may seem unimportant to you may alter the outcome of your case very significantly. Whether or not you think you find the answer to your question here, you should not consider it final until you consult with an attorney. Do not delay, as there are deadlines which, if you miss them, may make
Employers are subject to a variety of federal, state and, in some instances, city or county laws regulating the conduct of their relationship with employees. These laws attempt to balance the bargaining power between the employer and the individual worker. The laws also try to eliminate discrimination based on factors irrelevant to job capability and performance.
The first step toward employment is often an interview with a potential employer. This is where you get the chance to show the employer that you have the skills to work for them. There are a number of questions employers may legally ask you to determine if you are qualified for the job in question. There are also a number of questions potential employers may not ask you because such questions are considered discriminatory.
Examples of questions employers may and may not ask:
Private employers may legally ask employees and potential employees to undergo drug tests. The only requirements are that the tests are administered uniformly without regard to any other discriminatory factor. Government employers have more restrictions on drug testing.
Your employer is required to get information from all employees that shows you are legally entitled to work in the United States. You are required to sign a form called an I-9 Form. The form lists types of identification that are allowed. Employers must accept any form of identification on that list.
If you believe you have been treated unfairly because of documentation your employer required of you, you may call the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Special Counsel at (800) 255-7688.
W-4 and W-2 Forms
Each time you begin work for an employer, you should be given a tax from "W-4" to fill out. The employer must take a deduction from your pay based on the information that you give on the form regarding the number of dependants you have.
At the beginning of each year, each of your employers should mail you a form "W-2". You should file this form when you file your income tax return. The form shows how much you earned and how much was deducted from your pay for taxes. If you receive a 1099 form instead of a "W-2" it means your employer treated you like an independent contractor for tax or other purposes, and did not pay social security or other payroll taxes.
"At-will" vs. contract employment
Most employment in Washington State is considered “at will.” This means you can be fired for a good reason, a bad reason or no reason at all. It also means you may quit your job for any reason, or no
When you begin work, you may be given either an employment contract or personnel manual. Read them very closely, and keep a copy in a safe place outside the workplace. A contract will list both the rights and obligations with which you and your employer must comply. A personnel manual may also in some circumstances give you rights that may be enforced in court. Pay close attention to what is expected of you as an employee.
Most employers will ask you to sign an employment application. It is important that the information you give on the application be accurate, because employers often fire workers who give false information on the application.
If you work in a job category with union workers, or belong to a union, your workplace will be governed by a union contract, usually called the Collective Bargaining Agreement. This is a contract between the union and the employer, and only the union can enforce it. Such contracts typically govern wages, duties, benefits, work schedules and many other aspects of employment, including discipline and termination of employment. Most unions are of great benefit to workers. However, if your union is not enforcing the Collective Bargaining Agreement for the benefit of its membership, or if it discriminates against you or treats you in an arbitrary, grossly negligent, or politically-motivated manner, the union may have violated its duty of fair representation or other laws. You can find out more by contacting the National Labor Relations Board, at (206) 220-6300.
WAGE AND HOUR LAWS
The minimum wage in Washington is $8.67 as of January 1, 2011. It will be adjusted for inflation every year thereafter. You must be paid at least the minimum wage for your work. This rule applies even if you are paid at a "piece rate."
Working Time and Overtime
Your employer has to pay you for time you spend working on activities that benefit that employer, even if it isn’t part of your regular workday. You must be paid for travel between work locations, attending training sessions or meetings outside of regular work hours. Your employer doesn’t have to pay you for time spent getting to and from work or for "on call" time.
You must receive at least a 30-minute meal break if you work more than five hours, and it must come between two and five hours from the beginning of your shift. Employers do not have to pay for your meal break unless they require you to stay at the work site. You must also receive a 10-minute paid rest period about midway between each four-hour segment on the job.
Most employers pay overtime pay at 1.5 times your regular rate of pay for any hours worked above the regular 40 hours. Overtime laws do not protect agricultural employees, administrative, executive and professional positions (including certain computer analysts and programmers earning over $27.63 per hour) or outside salespersons if those individuals are paid on a salary basis.
Your employer must pay you at least once per month. If you quit or are fired, you must be paid at the regular payday. You may not be paid before then. Your employer must also give you a statement showing the hours or days worked, the rate of pay, gross wages and all deductions from wages.
Your employer can deduct from your wages only the deductions required by law (taxes, social security, etc.) or only those for which you give permission in writing. Employers may not deduct pay for equipment breakage or loss unless they can prove the damage occurred through your willful or dishonest behavior. If a cash register shortage occurs, money may be deducted from your paycheck only if the employer can show that you had sole access to the cash register and participated in counting the money both before and after the shift.
HEALTH AND SAFETY IN THE WORKPLACE
In general, your employer must provide you with a safe workplace, free from recognizable dangers that can cause injury or death. They must also comply with all the rules that the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) has written about safe workplaces. There are a number of specific standards for different kinds of jobs. If you feel there is a safety treat at your workplace, you have a right to file a complaint with L&I. You may file this complaint anonymously if you wish.
In Washington, you have the right to refuse to do unsafe work after taking certain steps. Before refusing to do the work, you must make every reasonable effort to get your employer to make the work conditions safer. You must also make a complaint to L&I.
Similarly, you have a right to know about hazardous substances that are being used in your workplace. You must be given information on these substances when you are first assigned to the job and whenever a new hazard comes into your workplace. The information must include how you can find a list of hazardous chemicals used in the workplace and "material safety data sheets" that provide detailed information about the chemicals.
If you are injured or get sick as a result of your work, you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits even if the injury or illness was your own fault. Usually, your doctor fills out the form and sends it to the state Department of Labor and Industries. If you have a work injury, be sure to explain to your doctor that you were injured or become ill as a result of your work. Do this as soon as possible after the injury occurs. The doctor is then required to complete an application for Workers’ Compensation benefits.
DISCRIMINATION AND RETALIATION
Although, as mentioned earlier, most employment in Washington is "at will," there are restrictions on the ability of an employer to fire an employee with or without any reason. These restrictions concern discrimination based on race, color, national origin, disability, religion, gender, marital status, age (over 40), and sexual orientation (in some cities and unincorporated parts of some counties).
You are protected in more than just hiring and firing. The employer may not refuse to promote or train you, lay you off or lower your pay or benefits because of these classifications, and in some cases, other classifications.
An employer may not discriminate based on gender unless there is some specific reason why a person of a particular gender may not be able to perform the job in question. Pregnancy discrimination is considered part of sex discrimination and it is illegal.
Your employer cannot discriminate against you in hiring or firing because of your religion. The employer must accommodate your religious practices, unless doing so would create an undue hardship on the employer.
Sexual and other harassment
Harassment is a form of discrimination. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature are sexual harassment if submission to or rejection of the conduct affects your employment. It is also illegal if it is sufficiently severe or pervasive that it unreasonably interferes with your work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment. The victim and harasser may be either a man or a woman. The harasser can be a supervisor, a co-worker or a non-employee. Harassment based on race, age (over 40), disability, etc. is also illegal where it creates a hostile or offensive working environment.
If you feel you are being harassed, get the advice of a Washington sexual harassment lawyer, but remember the first step in resolving such problems is to read the employer’s sexual harassment policy and complain to the appropriate person and to a high-level manager.
Similar restrictions forbid retaliation for the exercise of certain rights, including, among others: Complaining about discrimination or wage violations; taking group activity to raise wages or improve working conditions; blowing the whistle on illegal activity by the employer; making a claim about unsafe working conditions or for workers compensation; joining a union. Other specific categories of worker have other specific protections, such as health care workers who report patient neglect or abuse, teachers and many other school employees who report child neglect or abuse, and many other specific categories.
It is rare in a discrimination or retaliation case for an employer to come out and say they are firing a worker because of his or her sex, race or the same. Often, the employer will give another reason, generally related to the quality of work or absenteeism. It may be hard for a worker to sort out a legitimate reason from a discriminatory one.
If you are fired, you have the right under state law to receive a statement of the reasons for your firing. Your employer must provide it to you within 10 working days of the request. You can also find out information about the termination by signing up for unemployment benefits.
Workers are entitled to unemployment benefits when they are fired for reasons not amounting to misconduct, or when they had good cause to quit. Misconduct is action taken in willful disregard of the employer’s interest, and does not normally include performance problems, accidental errors, or most mistakes. Good cause to quit occurs when there has been a substantial deterioration in working conditions such that a reasonable person would feel compelled to quit, for example because their health, safety, morals, or finances will be harmed. Before quitting, however, the employee must make all reasonable efforts to work out the problem with the employer, unless such efforts would be futile. It is typically the employer’s burden to prove misconduct, and the employee’s burden to prove good cause for quitting the job. Benefits are granted unless the individual is disqualified for misconduct or quitting without good cause.
Individuals who are not disqualified from benefits are entitled to benefits for each week they are able to work, available for work, actively seeking work, and claim the benefits.
While unemployment benefits are often granted, they are usually much less than the individual makes at a job, and it takes time before the checks arrive - often four to six weeks, or more if benefits
Employment law is a complicated specialty area, and while these are some general guidelines, application of the law to the facts of your case can result in outcomes different from those implied above. There are also time limits, including statutes of limitations, which can permanently bar any claims brought too late. If you have questions, seek assistance right away from a qualified lawyer or government agency.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of a wrongful employment termination in Washington, please contact a wrongful discharge attorney at Teller & Associates to discuss your case. The initial call is free.
Employment Law Law Firm Disclaimer: The wrongful termination, GLBT discrimination, wrongful discharge, labor law, transgender employment discrimination, and employment law information presented on this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer or attorney client relationship. Any results portrayed here were dependent on the facts of a particular legal matter and results vary from case to case. Please contact a wrongful discharge lawyer or wrongful termination attorney at Teller & Associates for a consultation on your particular case. This firm is licensed to practice law only in the State of Washington.
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