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Wage and Hour Laws

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project - CLEAR Intake Line LSC Funded

Overview of state law regarding wages, hours and other benefits.



Minimum Wage: As of 2018, the state minimum wage for most workers in Washington is $11.50 an hour ($9.78 an hour for workers under age 16). The state adjusts the minimum wage every January based on inflation. If an employer does not pay you minimum wage, they may be liable for twice the amount of wages owed you.

Piece Rate: You must be paid minimum wage even if your work is by piece rate. Example: Samuel works for a janitorial service that pays its workers $200 for each floor of a big office building they clean. Samuel recently spent a 40-hour work week cleaning a single floor. If he is paid $400 for the week, he has earned less than the minimum wage, which is $11.50 x 40, or $460. Samuel's employer underpaid him by $60.

You count minimum wage for piece work by the week, not the day. If some days you earn less than minimum wage, and others you earn more, it is legal as long as you earn at least the minimum wage by the end of the week. If you perform tasks in addition to the piece rate work, your employer must also pay you at least the hourly minimum wage for each hour you work in these other tasks.

Working Time:  The employer must pay you for the time you spend at activities that benefit the employer, even if it is not part of your regular workday. Examples:  your employer must pay you for

  • travel time between work locations

  • training and meeting time directly related to the job, especially if the employer requires you to go

The employer does not have to pay you for time spent going to and from work at the start and end of the day, or for "on call" time if you carry a beeper and can use the time for your own activities.

Overtime Pay:  Most employers must pay overtime pay of 1-1/2 times your regular rate of pay for hours worked above 40 hours per week. The overtime law does not cover all workers. Examples:  it does not cover agricultural workers, administrative, executive or professional workers, or outside salespersons.

Employers may sometimes use a "fluctuating work week" that cuts into overtime pay. Contact the Washington Department of Labor & Industries to find out if this is legal in your case.

If an employer does not pay you overtime, they may be liable for twice the amount of overtime wages owed you.

Wage Claims:  The employer must pay you at least once a month. If you quit or the employer fired you, the employer must pay you at the regular payday. You have no right to payment before then.

Pay Stubs:  The employer must give you a statement showing

  • the hours or days you worked

  • the rate of pay

  • gross wages

  • all deductions from wages

Wage Deductions:  Your employer can deduct from your wages only the deductions the law requires (example: Social Security) or only those for which you give permission. The employer may not deduct for any broken or lost equipment unless they can show that your dishonesty or willful acts caused the loss.

If there is a cash register shortage, the employer may deduct from your paycheck only if they can show that you had sole access to the cash register and took part in counting the money both before and after the shift.

Uniforms:  If you have to wear a uniform, and if buying the uniform reduces your income below minimum wage, the employer must pay for it. Example:  John has to wear a white lab coat costing $50. John only makes $25 above minimum wage per week. His employer must pay the additional $25 toward the uniform.

Meal and Rest Breaks:  You must get a 30-minute meal break if you work more than five hours. The break must come between two and five hours from the start of your shift. The employer does not have to pay for your meal break unless they require you to stay at your workstation.

You must get a ten-minute paid rest break about midway through each four hours on the job.

Inspection of Personnel Files:  You have the right to look at your personnel records any time during your employment and for two years after your job ends. You have the right to put rebuttals into your personnel file during that time.

Family and Medical Leaves:  Employers do not have to give you paid sick leave. Those who do must also let you use it to take care of sick children.

If your employer has 50 or more employees, and you have worked there at least one year (and at least 1,250 hours during that year), the employer must allow you twelve weeks of unpaid family or medical leave in a twelve-month period. You do not have to take all the leave at once.

You can take this leave for the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child. You can also take it if you or a family member has a "serious health condition." (The "seriousness" depends on how many days you are out and how many doctor visits you have.) If you are suffering from physical or emotional injuries due to domestic violence, you may use your family and medical leave time to get medical care.
The employer can require you to use up your paid sick or vacation leave before letting you take the rest of the twelve weeks as unpaid leave.

Other Benefits:  The only other work-related benefits an employer must provide are

  • workers' compensation

  • unemployment compensation

The employer generally does not have to give you a pension, health insurance, vacation or sick leave.

If you are low-income, you may be eligible for food stamps and subsidized medical care from the state. Contact your local office of the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

Firing vs. Forcing You to Quit:If you can prove that your employer deliberately made your working conditions so hard that a reasonable person would have felt the need to quit, then you were "constructively discharged."  The law treats this as the same as if the employer fired you.


This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities.  It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice. 
This information is correct as of January 2018.

© 2018 Northwest Justice Project — 1-888-201-1014
(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)

Last Review and Update: Jan 18, 2018