Handling Employment Law Issues in Washington

A system of federal laws provide workers in the United States with most of protections they need, although laws regarding things such as minimum wage can vary by state. Here's an overview of employment law in Washington.


It's illegal for companies to discriminate when hiring, and these laws apply from the first moment the job opening is posted or advertised. Ads can't limit applicants by age, race or gender. Interviewers can't ask about race, national origin or religious practices. Companies can't refuse to hire people with disabilities, although employers can require that people be able to perform certain tasks - such as lift 50 pounds - if performing the job requires it.

On Pay Day

Washington's minimum wage is $9.19 an hour for most workers; 14- and 15-year-olds can be paid $7.81. Those who work more than 40 hours in a seven-day work week must be paid at time and a half for additional hours worked.

Safe On The Job

Washington is one of a handful of states allowed to operate its own on-the-job safety program because its laws are stronger than the federal system in some respects, such as fall protection, respiratory protection and agriculture. In addition to setting strict safety requirements, the state program also offers companies the option of free on-site reviews each year. Under occupational safety laws, workers can report problems with equipment, buildings or procedures, and companies aren't allowed to retaliate because of this.

Workers' Comp

All companies in the state must carry workers' compensation insurance to protect employees in the event of an on-the-job injury or work-related illness. Most use the state's program, although companies with more than $25 million in assets can self-insure. Workers' comp covers 60 to 75 percent of lost wages and medical and rehabilitation payments for workers. The goal is to get them healthy enough to return to their original jobs or to comparable positions.

Holidays And Vacation Time

There is no state requirement for paid or unpaid time off for vacation or holidays. Washington law allows workers with paid sick time off to use it to care for family members. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires businesses with 50 or more employees to allow unpaid leave, and the state Family Leave Act extends this right to cover domestic partners and military deployments. Washingtonians are permitted leaves of absence for jury duty, but they don't have to be paid while they're off.


Harassment victims can sue if co-workers' words or actions are so extreme that a reasonable person would object to them, or if the harassment is made a condition of the employee keeping the job. Harassing comments include anything from offensive decorations, photos or drawing to direct verbal insults based on race, age, gender, religious preference or disability.

Final Days

Washington is an "at will" employment state. Employees can quit or employers can let them go for any or no reason, at any time. Final wages must be paid by the end of the next pay period.


Unless an employee is guilty of misconduct, he can draw unemployment if he's laid off, fired, or if his hours are reduced. Workers at companies with more than 20 employees can continue any health insurance coverage they had while working, although they must pay the full premiums.

Contact A Labor and Employment Lawyer

This article is an overview of a complex topic. Consult a local Washington labor lawyer for advice about a specific employment law issue.

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