All except the wealthiest households in our country are struggling, and high prices are only part of the problem. The other part is that the wage or salary for full-time work in an entry-level position in most industries is not enough to afford necessities. Regarding legal protections for fair pay, workers in Washington state have it better than most. The minimum wage in Washington is the highest statewide minimum wage in the control, and some local governments have mandated even higher minimum wages. It all sounds good on paper, but there are many exceptions to minimum wage laws, just as there are to laws governing overtime pay and non-compete agreements, and employers sometimes exploit the legal ambiguities, or workers’ lack of knowledge of the law, to pay workers less money for their work than they have a legal right to receive. The Spokane wage and hour dispute lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP can help you resolve disputes with your employer over fair pay.
Washington State Has the Nation’s Highest Minimum Wage, so Why Does Your Employer Pay You So Little?
The good news is that Washington state has the highest minimum wage in the country. The statewide minimum wage in Washington is $15.74 per hour, which is more than twice the federal minimum wage. In some cities in Washington, local laws require employers to pay their employees an even higher minimum wage. For example, businesses in Seattle that employ 501 workers or more must pay their workers $18.69 per hour at minimum. Seattle businesses that employ 500 workers or fewer have the option to adopt a minimum wage of $16.50 per hour as long as the employee pays at least $2.19 per hour toward employer-provided health insurance coverage or earns at least $2.19 per hour in tips; otherwise, they must also abide by the $18.69 per hour minimum.
All employees ages 16 and older are entitled to earn at least the minimum wage, but Washington state law allows teens as young as 14 to hold paid employment. 14-year-old and 15-year-old employees can receive less than the statewide minimum wage as long as the employer pays them at least $13.38 per hour.
Is “Manager” Just a Euphemism?
Federal and state laws require employers to pay an overtime rate, to workers who earn an hourly wage, for each hour beyond the 40th that the employee works in a single week. The overtime rate is 1.5 times the worker’s usual hourly wage. For example, if your pay rate is $16 per hour, then your employer must pay you $16 per hour for the first 40 hours and $24 per hour for each additional hour until the next week begins.
In some jobs, the expectation that workers will work more than 40 hours in some weeks and much less than 40 hours in others is a natural part of the job. For example, employers at seasonal jobs are not required to pay the overtime rate. For example, a Fourth of July fireworks stand is only open in June and early July, so for the few weeks that the employees work, they can work for more than 40 hours each week without receiving overtime. Until recently, seasonal workers in the agriculture sector were not entitled to receive overtime pay, but the law has recently changed. As of 2023, agricultural workers must receive overtime pay for every hour beyond the 48th that they work in a given week.
The overtime pay exemption that most often gives rise to disputes because of its inherent ambiguity is the overtime pay exemption for employees in managerial roles or white-collar jobs. Employees whose jobs consist entirely of sales or computer-based work are only eligible for overtime pay if their hourly pay rate is less than 1.75 times the statewide minimum wage. Employees in managerial roles are also exempt. Employers sometimes try to get around this rule by tacking the word “manager” onto employees’ position titles and increasing their hours without increasing their hourly pay rate. If you get paid a monthly salary instead of an hourly wage, you can calculate your hourly pay rate by dividing your salary by eight times the number of days worked per month.
Your Rate of Pay Determines Your Protection From Non-Compete Clauses
Overtime pay is not the only legal protection that applies based on your pay rate. Washington state law also limits the use of non-compete clauses in employment contracts. A non-compete clause sets restrictions on the employers with which you may apply for a job within two years of leaving your current position. Pursuant to Washington state law, employers may not require employees to sign non-compete agreements unless the employee’s annual pay exceeds $116,593.18. Employers may not require independent contractors to sign non-compete agreements unless the independent contractor earns at least $291,492.85 per year.
There is more room for disagreement about the interpretation of employment laws than you might expect. If you think that you are not receiving fair pay, but your employer insists that they are not obligated to pay you more than they have already paid you, it is worthwhile to talk to an employment lawyer about your situation. In some cases, employers hide behind terminology and paperwork to avoid paying employees their fair share for their work. For example, employee misclassification is a widespread problem. This is where an employer counts you as an independent contractor and issues you a 1099 to avoid paying the taxes and health benefits that employers are required to pay for W-2 employees, even though the work you do is the same as what W-2 employees do. Likewise, it is a red flag if your employer promotes you to manager and pays you just enough to be exempt from overtime pay, just to get out of paying you overtime, and then makes you work upwards of 50 hours every week.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP About Wage and Hour Disputes
The Spokane employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you resolve wage and hour disputes with your employer. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Spokane, Washington, to set up a consultation.