Employment and Labor Laws

Washington

Washington Minimum Wage, Overtime, Hours and Leave Laws


Minimum Wage

Washington’s current minimum wage is $13.69.

For more information on Washington’s minimum wage laws, visit our Washington Minimum Wage Laws page, which includes topics such as minimum wage, tip minimum wage, tip sharing and pooling, and subminimum wages.

Related topic covered on other pages include:


Overtime

Washington labor laws require an employer to pay overtime to employees, unless otherwise exempt, at the rate of 1½ times the employee’s regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a workweek. WA Dept. of Labor & Industries: Overtime. See FLSA: Overtime for more information regarding overtime requirements.


Prevailing Wages

Under certain circumstances, employers in Washington may be required to pay residents wage rates established by the federal or state prevailing wage rates and rules. The prevailing wage rates may be different from the state’s standard minimum wage rates. Employees may be eligible for prevailing wages if they work on federal or state government or government-funded construction projects or perform certain federal or state government services. See the Washington Prevailing Wages, Davis-Bacon and Related Acts, McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act (SCA), and Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act (PCA) for more information about prevailing wages.


Meals and Breaks

Meal periods

Employers, not including agricultural employers, must provide employees who are 18 years old and older at least one thirty (30) minute meal period when they work at least five (5) consecutive hours in a workday. Employers must provide employees with a 30-minute meal period for each five (5) consecutive hours they work in a workday. For example, if an employee works twelve (12) consecutive hours in a workday, the employer would be required to provide that employee two (2) 30-minute meal breaks.

Employers must provide the first meal period at least two (2) hours into each five (5) consecutive work period. For subsequent meal periods, employers must allow employees to take them sometime after the initial five (5) hour work period has ended. Additionally, employers must allow employees to take their meal periods no later than at the end of each five (5) hour period worked.
When employees work at least three (3) hours past the time they normally end their workday, employers must provide them an additional 30-minute meal period. For purposes of this requirement, a normal workday is the shift an employee is regularly scheduled to work.

WA Admin. Code 296-126-092, WA Dept. of Labor & Industries Admin. Policy ES.C.6.1

Paid vs. unpaid meal periods

Employers are not required to pay for meal periods if employees are free from any duties for their entire meal period. Being free from all duties does not necessarily mean that employers are required to allow employees to leave the work premise so long as the employers allow employees to use their time as they wish. However, if employers require employees to remain on the premises during meal periods for the employers’ own interests (being on call, responding to phone calls or service requests, etc.), the employees are considered to be on duty and employers must pay them for their meal period. This determination is made on a case-by-case basis.
Employers must pay employees for their meal period when the employers:

  • require or allow employees to remain on duty
  • require employees to remain on work premises for the employers’ own interest (being on call, responding to phone calls or service requests, etc.)
  • call employees back to duty during their meal period even though they normally are not on call during the meal period

When employee’s meal periods are interrupted due to work, employers must ensure that those employees receive 30 total minutes of mealtime. Also, when employers require employees to work for part or all of their scheduled meal periods, the employers must pay employees for the entire meal period, not just the portions they were required to work.

WA Dept. of Labor & Industries Admin. Policy ES.C.6.1

Waiving the meal period

Employers may agree, upon requests from employees, to allow them to waive their meal periods, although employers are not required to do so. Employers may request employees to submit their requests to waive their meal periods in writing. Employees at any time may revoke their waiver or choose to take a meal period in spite of the waiver.

WA Dept. of Labor & Industry Admin. Policies ES.C.6.1

Collective bargaining agreements

Washington’s labor law allows employers in the construction trades and bargaining representatives to agree to provide meal periods that are less favorable than those required by Washington’s meal period requirements as long as the collective bargaining agreement specifically requires rest and meal periods and set forth the conditions for the rest and meal periods. Construction trades include, but are not limited to, employees working in construction, alteration, or repair of any type of privately, commercially, or publicly-owned building, road, or parking lot, erecting playground or school year equipment, or other related industries where the employees are in a recognized construction trade covered by a CBA.

Public employers may also enter into collective bargaining agreements that provide less favorable meal period requirements.

WA Dept. of Labor & Industries Admin. Policy ES.C.6.1

Rest Breaks

Washington labor laws require employers, not including agricultural employers, to provide employees who are 18 years old and older a paid rest break of at least ten (10) minutes for each four (4) hours worked. Employers should attempt to schedule employees rest periods as close to the midpoint of the four (4) hours work period as possible. Also, employers must allow employees to take rest periods no later than the end of the third hour of each four (4) hours work period. During the rest periods, employees must be free from all work duties, exertions, and activities. Employers may require employees to remain on their premises during the rest period.

WA Dept. of Labor & Industries Admin. Policy ES.C.6.1

Intermittent rest periods

The scheduled rest period requirement applies to employers unless they allow employees to take intermittent rest breaks equivalent to ten (10) minutes for each four (4) hours worked. In these situations, scheduled 10-minute rest periods are not required. Intermittent rest periods are periods of time shorter than ten (10) minutes, usually unscheduled, in which employees are allowed to rest, relax, and engage in brief personal activities while relieved of all work duties. Breaks that are too short to permit any meaningful rest, including bathroom breaks and brief stops to grab food or drink to consume while working, cannot be counted towards the ten (10) minute break requirement. See Pellino v. Brink’s, 267 P.3d 383 (2011).

Employers are not allowed to use intermittent rest periods when the nature of employees’ work requires employees to engage in constant mental or physical exertion. In these situations, employers are required to provide scheduled ten (10) minute rest breaks. Examples of professions that required constant mental or physical exertion include armored truck drivers and production line workers. See Pellino v. Brink’s, 267 P.3d 383 (2011).

WA Dept. of Labor & Industries Admin. Policy ES.C.6.1

On-call during rest periods

In certain circumstances, employers who have a business need may require employees to remain on call during their rest periods as long as employees remain free to use the time as they see fit. When employers call employees to work during their rest periods, the rest period converts to an intermittent rest period and employers must ensure that the employees subsequently receive enough break time to meet the ten (10) minute requirement.

WA Dept. of Labor and Industry Rest Breaks, Meal Periods & Schedules

Collective bargaining agreements

Washington labor law does not allow employers and bargaining representatives to agree to provide rest periods to employees that are less favorable than those required by Washington’s rest period requirements.

WA Dept. of Labor & Industries Admin. Policy ES.C.6.1

Variances

Employers may apply with the Washington Department of labor and Industries for a variance from meal and rest period requirements. They must show in good cause that the variance is needed due to the nature of the work.

WA Dept. of Labor & Industries Admin. Policy ES.C.6.1

Public employers

The statutory meal and rest requirements do not apply to:

  • Public employers with a local resolution, ordinance, or rule in effect prior to April 1, 2003 that has provisions for meal and rest periods different from those required by Washington state law, or
  • Employees of public employers who have entered into collective bargaining contracts, labor/management agreements, or other mutually agreed to employment agreements that specifically vary from or supersede, in part or in total, the rules regarding meal and rest periods, or
  • Public employers with collective bargaining agreements (CBA) in effect prior to April 1, 2003 that provide for meal and rest periods that are different from the state requirements. The public employer may continue to follow the CBA until its expiration. Subsequent collective bargaining agreements may provide for meal and rest periods that are specifically different, in whole or in part, from the requirements of the state law.

WA Dept. of Labor & Industries Admin. Policy ES.C.6.1

Employees who are under 18 years old

16- and 17-year-olds

Employers must provide employees who are 16 and 17 years old meal periods as follows:

  • They must allow employees to take meal periods that are at least thirty (30) minutes in length.
  • The meal periods must start no less than two (2) hours but no more than five (5) hours from the beginning of their work shift.
  • Employer may not require employees to work more than five (5) consecutive hours without a meal period.

Employers must provide employees who are 16 and 17 years old rest periods as follows:

  • Employers must allow employees who are 16 and 17 years old to take a paid rest period of not less than ten (10) minutes for each four (4) hours worked.
  • The rest periods must be scheduled as near as possible to the midpoint of the four (4) work period.
  • Employers must provide rest periods at least every three (3) hours.

WA Admin. Code 296-125-0287

14- and 15-year-olds

Employers must provide employees who are 14 and 15 years old meal and break periods as follows:

  • Employers may not allow employees who are 14 and 15 years old to work more than four (4) hours with being given a meal period lasting at least 30 minutes. The meal period must be separate and distinct from, and in addition to, any rest breaks.
  • Employers must allow employees who are 14 and 15 years old to take paid rest breaks of at least ten (10) minutes for every two (2) hours they work.
  • When employees who are 14 and 15 years old work four-hour periods, employee cannot required them to work more than two (2) hours without giving them either a ten (10) minute rest break or a thirty (30) minute meal period.

WA Admin. Code 296-125-0285

Agricultural employers

Washington labor laws require agricultural employer to provide employees an unpaid meal period of at least 30 minutes when they are employed more than five (5) hours in a shift. Employers must provide employees who work eleven or more hours in a day at least one (1) additional 30-minute meal. WA Admin. Code 296-131-020(1)

Agricultural employers must allow employees to take a paid ten (10) minute rest period during each four (4) hour work period. WA Admin. Code 296-131-020(2)

An agricultural employer is any person, firm, corporation, partnership, business trust, legal representative, or other business entity that engages in any agricultural activity in this state and employs one or more employees. Agricultural activity is defined as services performed:

  • On a farm, in the employ of any person, in connection with the cultivation of the soil, or in connection with raising or harvesting any agricultural or horticultural commodity, including raising, shearing, feeding, caring for, training, and management of livestock, bees, poultry, and furbearing animals and wildlife, or in the employ of the owner or tenant or other operator of a farm in connection with the operation, management, conservation, improvement, or maintenance of such farm and its tools and equipment; or
  • In packing, packaging, grading, storing, or delivering to storage, or to market or to a carrier for transportation to market, any agricultural or horticultural commodity; but only if such service is performed as incident to ordinary farming operations.

Agricultural activity does not include employment in commercial packing houses, commercial storage establishments, commercial canning, commercial freezing, or any other commercial processing with respect to services performed in connection with the cultivation, raising, harvesting and processing of oysters or raising and harvesting of mushrooms or in connection with any agricultural or horticultural commodity after its delivery to a terminal market for distribution for consumption.

WA Admin. Code 296-131-005


Nursing Mother Breaks

Washington labor laws require employers with fifteen (15) or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who are nursing mothers which includes allowing nursing mothers to take reasonable breaks when needed to express breast milk for up to two (2) years after the child’s birth. Reasonable accommodations also include providing employees who are nursing mothers with a private location, other than a bathroom, if such a location exists at the place of business or worksite, which may be used by the employee to express breast milk. If the business location does not have a space for the employee to express milk, the employer must work with the employee to identify a convenient location and work schedule to accommodate their needs.

WA Statute 43.10.005; WA Dept. of Labor & Industries: Pregnancy Accommodations


Vacation Leave

Information about Washington vacation leave laws may now be found on our Washington Leave Laws page.


Sick Leave

Information about Washington sick leave laws may now be found on our Washington Leave Laws page.


Holiday Leave

Information about Washington holiday leave laws may now be found on our Washington Leave Laws page.


Jury Duty Leave

Information about Washington jury duty leave laws may now be found on our Washington Leave Laws page.


Voting Leave

Information about Washington voting leave laws may now be found on our Washington Leave Laws page.


Severance Pay

Washington labor laws do not require employers to provide employees with severance pay. WA Dept. of Labor: Severance. If an employer chooses to provide severance benefits, it must comply with the terms of its established policy or employment contract.


Unemployment

Under certain circumstances, Washington residents may be eligible for unemployment benefits while they search for another job. You are required to certify that you are unemployed on a weekly basis to receive these benefits. See Washington State Unemployment Benefits.


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