Washington employee benefits and HR rules
As a private employer or human resources professional with employees in Washington state, you must know which employee benefits are required in The Evergreen State. Learn about the local employment laws that can impact your organization with our complete guide below.
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If your organization is based in Washington or you employ Washington workers, you need to know which benefits and HR rules apply to you. This guide will provide a general overview of Washington state’s regulations and guidelines for small to medium size businesses.
Topics covered in this guide include:
What are employees' rights in Washington?
Washington guarantees workers many rights under state and federal law. If you have or plan to hire employees in the state, you’ll need to know what protected rights your employees have, no matter the size of your organization.
Washington state workers' rights include:
- Freedom from retaliation for exercising a protected right or filing a complaint about their employer to the state
- Employers can’t terminate, suspend, demote, reduce hours, reduce pay, or deny a promotion to an employee in retaliation for the above.
- Employees are entitled to the state minimum wage, including overtime and paid sick leave
- Freedom from discrimination in the workplace, including sexual harassment
- Equal pay and opportunities
- The right to rest breaks
- You must allow employees to take at least a ten-minute paid rest break for every four hours worked.
- You can only require employees to work up to three consecutive hours without a break.
- Employers can’t require their workers to stay onsite during their breaks.
- The right to meal breaks
- Employers must provide at least 30 minutes for meal breaks when employees work more than five hours in a shift.
- Meal breaks must start between the second and fourth hours of the worker’s shift.
- Meal breaks are unpaid unless employers require their workers to remain on duty or at the work site.
- The right to bathroom breaks
- Employers must provide their employees with “reasonable access” to bathrooms during working hours. You can’t restrict bathroom use to only scheduled breaks.
- Employers can only hold certain employees to a non-compete agreement
- Employers can hold employees earning at least $116,593.18 annually to a non-compete agreement (while non-compete agreements for employees earning less than that amount are void).
- You can hold independent contractors earning $291,482.95 or more annually to a non-compete agreement.
- Employers must protect “isolated workers” such as janitors, security guards, and housekeepers from sexual harassment by:
- Adopting a sexual harassment policy
- Providing mandatory training to staff
- Providing resources for reporting harassment and assault
- Providing panic buttons to certain workers
Additionally, rideshare drivers have new rights and protections as of 2023:
- The right to written notice of minimum per mile, per minute, and per trip rates
- The right to paid sick leave
- The right to workers’ compensation
- Employers can’t retaliate against a driver who exercised their state rights
What are employers required to provide in Washington?
Washington requires employers to offer all eligible employees certain employee benefits and workplace accommodations. We’ve broken up the requirements in the sections below.
Required workplace accommodations
Employers must provide pregnancy accommodations in the workplace. State law prohibits employers from refusing to consider accommodations for pregnant employees. Employers must implement any reasonable accommodations. Employers also can’t retaliate against pregnant employees who request accommodations or file a complaint to the state. Employers also can’t require pregnant employees to take leave if other solutions are available.
Employers must provide breaks for employees to breastfeed their children or express milk for up to two years after birth. Employers must provide a private location for employees to do so.
What employee benefits are legally required in Washington?
Washington state laws require some employers to provide certain benefits to their employees.
Required benefits include:
- Paid sick leave
- Employers must provide one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours an employee works, no matter if they are full-time, part-time, or temporary.
- Employees can use sick time for illness or injury, health conditions, doctor or dentist visits, preventive care, to care for dependents due to school or daycare closure by public officials for health reasons, and domestic violence leave.
- Unused balances up to 40 hours of sick time carry over annually.
- Washington Family Care Act (FCA)
- Employees can use any paid leave offered by their employer to provide treatment for or supervise a dependent with a health condition or care for a family member.
- Employees can choose to use paid sick leave, vacation time, personal holidays, or any other time off plan you offer for these purposes.
- Domestic violence leave
- Victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking can take time off work to assist law enforcement, attend court proceedings, seek medical or psychological help, get help from social programs, practice safety planning, or relocate.
- Employers must accommodate reasonable safety requests in the workplace, such as allowing job transfers or reassignments, changing work phone numbers or emails, and implementing new procedures.
- Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) program
- Employees can get up to 12 weeks of paid leave to bond with a newborn or adoptive child, serious medical conditions, health conditions of a family member, and certain military events.
- Employers and employees must pay 0.6% of employees’ gross wages to fund the program. Employers are responsible for 26.78% of the premium, while employers must withhold the remaining 73.22% from employees’ paychecks.
- Organizations with fewer than 50 employees only need to withhold the employee portion of the PFML.
- Employees who have worked at least 820 hours for any Washington employer for the last 12 months are eligible for the program.
- Military Family Leave Act
- An employee may take up to 15 days of leave if their spouse is called for active duty service.
- Employees must work at least 20 hours per week to qualify.
- The law also allows volunteer firefighters, reserve officers, and Civil Air Patrol members to take leave for emergency activities.
- If you require your employees to wear a uniform with your logo or company name or your required attire is of an uncommon color or has an ethnic or historical theme, you must provide the uniform to your employees. This includes requiring employees to wear formal attire such as tuxedos or gowns.
- Traditional business clothes such as dress shirts aren’t considered uniforms.
- Common dress code colors, such as white, tan, or blue tops, and tan, black, blue, or gray bottoms, are exempt from the law.
- Long-term care benefits
- Beginning July 2023, employers must withhold Washington Cares Fund premiums from employees’ paychecks. These premiums are 0.58% of employees’ wages. For example, employees earning $75,000 annually will contribute $435 each year ($36.25/month).
- The WA Cares Fund will provide long-term care insurance to Washingtonians beginning in 2026, up to a $36,500 lifetime cap (adjusted for inflation). Washington is the first state to implement long-term care requirements.
- Employees can access their benefits after contributing for ten years (or if they retire)
Locally required employee benefits
Seattle requires employers to pay employees all compensation owed to them. This includes any business expense reimbursements, such as remote work costs.
Providing employee stipends is an excellent way employers in Washington can reimburse their workers for business expenses while offering perks that their employees love. You can offer stipends for wellness, remote work, professional development, transportation, and more.
In Seattle, employees of an organization with 250 or more full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) accrue one hour of paid sick leave per 30 hours worked. Additionally, employers with 50-249 FTEs must allow up to 56 unused hours to carry over annually. This increases to 72 hours for organizations with 250 or more FTEs.
In Tacoma, employees may also use their paid sick leave for bereavement leave or to care for dependents when a public official closes their school or daycare for any reason.
What benefits aren't required by law in Washington state?
Washington doesn’t require employers to offer most benefits. This includes paid vacation time, bereavement leave, paid holidays, life insurance, and health insurance. While the state doesn’t require employers to offer these benefits, they can help you attract and retain employees, improve job satisfaction, and boost employee morale.
Health insurance in Washington
While the state doesn’t require health insurance, federal law does. Organizations with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) must provide health insurance benefits with minimum essential coverage (MEC) to satisfy the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) employer mandate.
Offering health benefits to your employees is an excellent way to attract and retain top talent. According to PeopleKeep’s 2022 Employee Benefits Survey Report, 87% of employees value health insurance, and 92% of employers offer it. You could lose top job candidates and employees to your competitors by not offering health benefits.
While traditional group health insurance is a popular option, rising premium costs have made it challenging for small to medium size businesses to offer the benefit.
Thankfully there are alternatives available to small businesses that can’t offer group coverage due to minimum contribution or participation requirements or the high price of insurance premiums.
Health reimbursement arrangement (HRA)
A health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) is an employer-funded health benefit that allows you to reimburse your employees tax-free for their qualifying medical expenses. With a stand-alone HRA such as a qualified small employer HRA (QSEHRA) or an individual coverage HRA (ICHRA), you can reimburse employees for their individual health insurance monthly premiums.
You simply offer your employees a monthly allowance for their medical expenses. Employees then submit requests for reimbursement and provide proof of their eligible expenses.
With an HRA, you have complete control over your benefit and budget while giving your employees more freedom to choose how they want to spend their allowance.
You can also satisfy the federal regulations for applicable large employers (ALEs) with an ICHRA.
Learn more about each HRA
For employers with 1-49 employees
A simple, controlled-cost alternative to group health insurance.
For employers of all sizes
A flexible health benefit that can be used alone or alongside group health insurance.
An HRA is a more affordable health benefits solution than group health insurance in Washington state. That’s because, according to Ideon, individual health insurance premiums are cheaper than group premiums in most counties.
Health and wellness stipends
You can also offer your workers stipends for health and wellness expenses. A health stipend is a fixed allowance offered to your employees to help pay for their healthcare expenses. A health stipend isn’t a formal benefit, so you have complete control over which expenses are eligible for reimbursement.
However, health stipends are taxable. They also don’t satisfy the ACA’s employer mandate for organizations with 50 or more FTEs. This makes HRAs a better option for most organizations.
You can also offer a wellness stipend to reimburse your workers for gym memberships, wellness mobile apps, fitness trackers, and more. Offering a wellness stipend alongside an HRA or group health insurance policy allows you to create a more holistic wellness program.
Learn the differences between a health stipend and a health reimbursement arrangement
Wage laws in Washington
Wages and salaries in Washington are subject to various state laws. We’ve compiled the essential requirements to know below.
Minimum wage laws
Washington has a state minimum wage that exceeds the federal minimum wage.
|Date in effect||Minimum wage for all employees in the state|
|January 1, 2023||$15.74/hour|
In 1998 voters approved Initiative 688, which required the Department of Labor and Industries to make cost-of-living adjustments each year through 2016. In 2016, voters approved Initiative 1433 to increase the minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020 and reestablish annual cost-of-living increases.
Some workers are exempt from the minimum wage requirements, including the following:
|Type of worker||State wage law||2023 minimum wage|
|Minors ages 14 or 15||Minors aged 14 or 15 must earn at least 85% of the minimum wage||$13.38/hour|
|On-the-job learners||Employers must apply for a sub-minimum wage certificate. On-the-job learners must earn at least 85% of the minimum wage||$13.38/hour|
|Student workers||Employers must apply for a sub-minimum wage certificate. On-the-job learners must earn at least 75% of the minimum wage||$11.81/hour|
|Workers with disabilities||Employers must apply for a sub-minimum wage certificate|
|Apprentices||Employers must apply for a sub-minimum wage certificate|
Local minimum wage laws
In addition to the Washington state minimum wage, you may be subject to paying more if you have employees in certain cities.
|Place||2023 minimum wage rate||Applies to|
|Seattle||$18.69/hour||Employers with 501 or more employees|
|$16.50/hour||Employers with 500 or fewer employees that pay $2.19/hour toward medical benefits or have employees who earn at least $2.19/hour in tips|
|SeaTac||$19.06/hour||Hospitality and transportation industry employers|
You must pay overtime to employees in Washington state who work more than 40 hours per week. The state overtime hourly rate is 1.5 times the employee’s regular rate of pay. The state doesn’t require overtime pay if an employee works more than eight hours per day unless they surpass 40 per week.
The following employees are eligible for overtime pay:
- Most hourly workers, including piece rate and commission employees
- Some salaried employees
- Only certain executive, administrative, and professional employees are exempt
- Agricultural and dairy workers
The following employees are exempt from overtime pay:
- Employees exempt from the Minimum Wage Act
- Agricultural workers employed less than 13 weeks during the previous calendar year who commute daily and work as hand harvest pieceworkers
- Executive, administrative, professional, computer professional, or outside sales workers
- Volunteers for educational, charitable, religious, government, or non-profit organizations
- Newspaper vendors or carriers
- Employees of railroad or pipeline companies subject to the Interstate Commerce Act
- Forest protection and fire prevention workers
- Employees who must reside or sleep at their workplace
- Crew of non-American ships
- Farm interns
- Junior ice hockey players
- Independent contractors
- Employees who request time off as a substitute for overtime pay
- Workers employed as “seamen”
- Seasonal employees of agricultural fairs
- Unionized motion picture projectionists
- Truck or bus drivers who are subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Act
- Airline workers who work overtime because they voluntarily traded shifts
Employers must pay their employees at least once per month on a regularly scheduled basis.
If an employee quits their job or an employer fires them, they must receive their final paycheck. Employers must pay employees their final paycheck by the next regularly scheduled payday. State labor laws prohibit employers from withholding final pay if employees don’t return tools or equipment. Instead, employers must follow deduction rules.
Employers may pay all tips to their employees. Employers can’t take any tips for company use or use them to pay wages. You can establish a tip pool for all your employees to share. But you can’t include any salaried managers or business owners.
Rounding practices and the seven-minute rule
If your organization uses a rounding system for calculating clock in and out times, you can’t use 15-minute increments for rounding. Instead, you must use the seven-minute rule. This means that if employees are up to seven minutes late for work and you use a rounding system, you must pay them for that entire 15-minute period. However, if employees are more than seven minutes late, you can round their pay to the next quarter hour.
The same rules apply to the end of an employee’s shift. You must pay them for the full shift if they clock out seven minutes early. However, if they clock out eight minutes early, you can stop payment to the nearest quarter hour.
Here’s an example of employee clock-in times under the rounding system:
|Employee scheduled start||Employee clock-in time||Round start time to|
|8 a.m.||7:50 a.m.||7:45 a.m.|
|8 a.m.||7:57 a.m.||8 a.m.|
|8 a.m.||8:03 a.m.||8 a.m.|
|8 a.m.||8:07 a.m.||8 a.m.|
|8 a.m.||8:10 a.m.||8:15 a.m.|
While rounding can apply to clock in and out times, they don’t apply to meal or rest breaks. Employees can take their full 30-minute lunch break or 10-minute breaks.
Employers in Washington are only allowed to make certain deductions from wages without permission.
Allowed wage deductions include:
- Any deductions required by state or federal law
- Deductions that are necessary to cover any medical, surgical, or hospital care
- Deductions for any court order, judgment, bankruptcy proceeding, child support, trustee process, or wage attachment
With permission, employers may deduct:
- Federal income taxes, Medicare taxes, Social Security, and workers’ compensation
- Court-ordered wage garnishments
- Deductions for medical, surgical, or hospital care
Employers can’t deduct from an employee’s wages to cover cash register shortages, reimbursements for a customer’s bad check or card payment, customer theft, or damage to company equipment.
Washington state pay transparency law
You must disclose your wage scale or salary range in any job postings. You must also share any benefits or additional compensation you’re offering to employees. The law applies to any organization engaging in business in the state, not just Washington-based employers. As long as you have an employee in the state or a remote job opening where a Washington-based employee can apply, you must include your pay details.
You must include any retirement plan options, PTO policies, paid holidays, bonuses, profit-sharing, stock options, or any other forms of compensation you plan to offer to your new hire.
Other HR and employment requirements in Washington
In addition to employee benefits, compensation, and employee rights, there are other unique HR rules you need to know about.
Industrial Welfare Act recordkeeping requirements
All non-agricultural employees in Washington must keep employment records. This includes the names of your employees, their addresses and occupations, dates of employment, and their rates of pay. You must also document the amount paid to each employee per pay period and the number of hours worked.
You must keep these records for at least three years.
Employees can request to see the original records at any time, and employers must provide them for inspection within ten business days.
Minimum Wage Act recordkeeping requirements
The state Minimum Wage Act also requires employers to keep employment records. Most of the rules are the same as the Industrial Welfare Act, but there are some differences.
You must also keep a record of:
- Employee birth dates if they are a minor
- Time and day that an employee’s workweek begins (work schedule)
- Any tips, gratuities, and service charges paid to employees
- Paid sick leave
Itemized pay statements
You must provide employees with itemized pay statements showing the number of hours or days worked, their rates of pay, gross wages, and any deductions taken from their pay.
Washington Fair Chance Act
Under state law, you can’t ask about a job candidate’s criminal history on a job application, during an interview, or by other methods. You can’t conduct a background check or ask about criminal history until you’ve determined if the candidate is qualified for the position.
Department of Safety and Health (DOSH) requirements
Employers nationwide must comply with laws administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). However, Washington has a federally-approved state plan that employers must abide by.
- Report all work-related incidents that result in an employee’s death or in-patient hospitalization to DOSH within eight hours.
- Report any incidents that result in non-hospitalized amputation or loss of an eye within 24 hours
- Document any work-related injuries or illnesses that meet certain criteria
- Display OSHA Form 300A in workplaces from February 1 through April 30 each year
- Provide and keep a workplace free of known safety hazards
- Stop employees from entering any unsafe workspace
- Prohibit alcohol and drugs in the workplace
- Control all chemical agents
- Protect employees from biological agents
Smoking and tobacco use
Washington prohibits employers from allowing their workers to smoke in the workplace. Employees must smoke outside, at least 25 feet from any entrances, exits, or windows. Employers must also display no-smoking signs at each building entrance.
Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD)
Organizations with eight or more employees in Washington must follow WLAD guidelines. Under the law, employers can’t take adverse action against their employees due to age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, national origin, military status, or physical or mental disability.
Required state display posters
If you have a physical presence in Washington state, you must display certain posters that inform your employees of their rights.
Required posters include:
- Industrial Welfare Act poster
- Anti-discrimination poster
- Domestic violence poster
- Job Safety and Health Law poster
- Minimum wage poster
- Notice of injury poster
- Paid Family and Medical Leave Act poster
- Unemployment benefits poster
- Your rights as a worker poster
Which state agencies oversee employment laws in Washington?
The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries is the regulatory authority for employment and HR laws in Washington. However, there are other departments and agencies involved with employment laws.
Washington agencies involved with employment law include:
- Department of Labor & Industries (L&I)
- Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH)
- Responsible for administering and enforcing the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA)
- Employment Security Department
- Human Rights Commission
Frequently asked questions
What are my rights as an employee in Washington state?
In Washington, workers have the right to equal pay and opportunities, to take action by filing a claim or complaint against an employer without retaliation, to take paid ten-minute rest breaks and unpaid 30-minute meal periods, to bathroom breaks, and to earn the state minimum wage. You also have the right to a workplace free from discrimination and sexual harassment.
Can my employees skip lunch breaks in Washington state?
Employees can skip their lunch breaks if you and your employees agree. However, they can’t waive the rest break requirements. You’ll need to file a Variance Application to modify meal break requirements.
What is the minimum wage in Washington state?
The state minimum wage for most employees is $15.74/hour.
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