As a New York Times article explains, President Obama announced in his State of Union Address his plans to help raise the minimum wage as much as he is able. The President will use an executive order to raise the minimum wage. An executive order is only effective for small and specific change, in this case for federal contractors. For a comprehensive federal minimum wage increase, Congress would have to pass legislation setting the new wage. States and individual employers, like Washington and Costco, are also able to raise the set state minimum wages and employee minimum wages, respectively. The President’s executive order went into effect when he signed it. The Tri-City Herald noted this increase could affect some contracted employees working in Washington, particularly those at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
Federal Contractors in Washington
The new minimum wage for federal contractors will increase from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. Even though Washington has the highest state minimum wage, Hanford workers are federal contractors, and this means state minimum wage laws do not control their pay. Additionally, the new minimum wage only applies to new federal contractors and new federal contracts, and not to current contracts. However, the vast majority of Hanford’s workers already make more than the new federal contractor minimum wage. The few Hanford employees that do not make at least $10.10 an hour will benefit from the increase when their contracts are renewed, as will other federally contracted workers in the state.
Exempt or Nonexempt
Employers who fall under the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) must provide their nonexempt employees at least the set federal minimum wage. In Washington, those employers must provide the state
minimum wage of $9.32. Interestingly, the majority of employers are subject to FLSA, and the majority of their employees are nonexempt. The FLSA provides nonexempt employees with such rights as minimum wage, overtime, and meal breaks. Exempt employees are not entitled to overtime, and are assumed to receive more than minimum wage. While the majority of employees tend to be nonexempt, it is still important for employers to identify which of their employees are exempt and which are not, in order to avoid wage laws violations. Despite the fact that there are more nonexempt employees than exempt employees, it is harder to identify exempt employees than nonexempt.
Nonexempt employees are generally employees who are paid an hourly wage, and are only paid for the hours they actually work. These employees usually are not scheduled to work more than 40 hours a
week, because each additional hour would require overtime pay. Some exempt employees are easy to identify, such as: executives and “learned professions” (lawyers, for example), doctors, registered nurses, and accountants. Other exempt positions are less obvious, and can require more scrutiny so as to avoid misclassification and denial of overtime. For instance, administrative or secretarial positions and supervisor positions have deceptive names, as some administrative assistants and supervisors do not have the responsibilities necessary to be exempt, even though both positions are within the exempt category. These are usually the positions employers have the most difficulty classifying.
If you have concerns about wages or employment classifications, an experienced Washington employment law attorney can help.