What to Watch for in 2019 (WA edition)

Posted on Posted in California, Employment, Updates

As usual, Washington was much less busy than California.  However, #MeToo still had an impact in Washington, shown by the number of equal pay and anti-harassment laws passed in 2018.

Note that the following only applies to employers and businesses doing business in Washington State.


Minimum Wage Updates

Remember that the Washington minimum wage goes up to $12.00 per hour as of January 1, 2019.  Keep in mind that minimum wage is also a local issue.  Counties and municipal governments over the last several years have enacted their own minimum wage statutes and regulations.  Always make sure to check the local laws as well as the state laws

Paid Family Leave

Starting January 1, 2019, all employees and employers with more than 50 employees will begin paying premiums for family and medical leave.  Employers with fewer than 50 employees are currently exempt from the premiums.  After January 1, 2020, employees can begin taking advantage of the family and medical leave program, and if eligible, may receive up to $1,000 per week.

Ban on Sexual Harassment Nondisclosure Agreements

This law actually went into effect in June, 2018.  Employers may no longer require employees to sign nondisclosure agreements that prevent the employees from speaking out about sexual harassment, unless they are required to keep it confidential for other reasons (such as working in HR).  This does not prevent employers from including a nondisclosure term in a settlement agreement.

Confidential Arbitration in Discrimination

This is another law that went into effect over the summer.  It prevents employers from requiring confidential processes for pursuing harassment or discrimination claims, and requires that employees be allowed to publicly pursue harassment or discrimination claims under state or federal anti-discrimination laws or with state or federal agencies.  It is highly possible that future litigation will change the parameters of the law.

Updates to Washington Law Against Discrimination

The Washington Law Against Discrimination has been updated to include protections for “actual or perceived victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.”  Employers may not hire, fire, or retaliate because of an actual or perceived incident of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.  The law also requires reasonable accommodation by the employer if requested by the employee and if the employee can verify the abuse.

Model Policies

As of January 1, 2019, the Washington State Human Rights Commission will post model policies on the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace on its website, and the Washington Department of Labor & Industries will post those policies on its website 30 days later.

Equal Pay Act Amendment

Employers are not allowed to pay similarly situated employees differently based on gender, unless there is a valid job-related reason.  Employees must be allowed to discuss and disclose their wages, and employers can’t retaliate against employees for doing so.  Although employers may still ask a candidate for their prior salary, employers may not use a lower past salary as a reason for paying a particular worker less.

Fair Chance Act

Employers may not advertise in a way that prevents persons with a criminal record from applying, may not ask about criminal history during the application process, and may not ask the candidate about their criminal history or run a criminal background check until after the candidate has been found qualified for the job.  This does not apply to certain job categories that work with children, other vulnerable populations, might otherwise hold a position of trust, or where required to ask under other laws.