Wage Payment Laws. The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) enforces the Minimum Wage Act, which includes requirements for the state minimum wage, overtime, and paid sick leave. The Wage Payment Act allows an employee to file a wage complaint with L&I. L&I may obtain unpaid wages and interest for an employee for a violation of the state's wage payment laws and may order the employer to pay a civil penalty if the violation was willful. L&I may also obtain unpaid wages and assess a civil penalty for a failure to pay prevailing wages.
State law also prohibits mandatory overtime for employees of health care facilities. Under these provisions, L&I investigates complaints and may issue civil infractions and statutory penalties.
Washington Law Against Discrimination. The Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) generally prohibits discrimination in employment and public accommodation based on race; creed; color; national origin; sex; marital status; honorably discharged veteran or military status; sexual orientation; the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability; or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability.
The Washington State Human Rights Commission (HRC) is responsible for administering and enforcing WLAD. If HRC finds reasonable cause to believe discrimination has occurred, it must first try to eliminate the unfair practice via conference and conciliation. If this process fails, HRC must refer the matter to an administrative law judge who, after a hearing, may issue an order providing relief to the complainant. Any person injured by an unfair practice or act in violation of WLAD may bring a civil lawsuit to enjoin further violations and recover actual damages and reasonable attorneys' fees.
Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act. Under the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA), an employer must provide a workplace free from recognized hazards. L&I administers WISHA. If L&I believes an employer has committed a violation, L&I issues a citation and, depending on the violation, may assess civil penalties. Civil penalties may be adjusted based on the employer's inspection history, the size of the workforce, and other factors. Civil penalties are mandatory for serious or willful violations.
Washington Equal Pay and Opportunities Act. State law prohibits discrimination in pay based on gender. An employee may file a complaint with L&I. If L&I determines a violation has occurred, L&I must first attempt to resolve the violation by conference and conciliation. If no resolution occurs, L&I may issue a citation and notice of assessment for actual damages, statutory damages equal to the actual damages, or $5,000, whichever is greater; interest on all compensation owed; payment to L&I for the costs of the investigation; and any other appropriate relief.
Other Employment Laws. The Industrial Welfare Act (IWA), administered by L&I, contains a number of provisions dealing with with wages, hours, and working conditions, including child labor, work apparel, and other matters. Other employment laws include regulation of farm labor contractors.
Aggrieved persons, whistleblowers, or their designated representative entity, known as a relator, may bring a qui tam action as a relator for any relief the specified state agency may seek, including penalties and damages, subject to the same conditions and limitations that apply to the agency for the following laws and associated rules:
No qui tam action may be brought:
A qui tam action is a public action and does not preclude an action by an individual, but a court shall offset any award in one action by the amount paid to the same employee in another action.
Qui Tam Process. A relator must provide notice to the agency and employer. If the agency chooses to investigate the alleged violation, a resolution of the violation must occur within 180 days of the notice. If the agency chooses not to investigate, it must notify the relator within 60 days of the notice.
As part of its investigation, the agency may attempt to settle the violation. If the settlement provides not less than 100 percent of any wrongfully withheld wages or benefits, including 12-percent interest per annum, the settlement precludes further claims for the same wages or benefits.
A qui tam action must begin within 60 days after the relator receives notice that the agency will not investigate the alleged complaint. Otherwise, the qui tam action must be brought within 240 days of the notice to the agency.
Once a qui tam action has begun, the agency may intervene under certain conditions and assume primary responsibility. The agency and the attorney general (AG) may take certain actions to prevent representation by a particular attorney in a qui tam action.
The relator and the AG receive notice and opportunities to be heard if the agency proposes to settle or dismiss the action after intervening. If the relator proposes to settle a qui tam action, the settlement must be submitted to the agency and to the AG.
Distribution of Awards. Any penalty amounts recovered are distributed as follows:
Penalties received by the relator must be equitably distributed to the aggrieved parties, subject to review by the agency, except the relator is entitled to a proportionate service award. A relator that prevails is entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees and costs. Any damages recovered must be distributed to the aggrieved employees.
Retaliation. Retaliation against an employee for involvement in a qui tam action is prohibited. Remedies for retaliation are specified, including a qui tam action.