Simple Questions to Reduce Employer Wage Liability

There has been a widely reported increase in wage and hour litigation in Washington State and employers have cried foul at the cost of this litigation.[1] However, Washington employers should not be overwhelmed with the complexity of wage and hour laws as Washington has played a historic role in protecting hourly workers.[2]

When Washington employers take on the responsibility of an employee, they have an affirmative duty to understand the changing wage and hour laws and how they affect their policies and rights of their employees. Nevertheless, employers could greatly reduce their liability for wage litigation by regularly asking themselves these five simple questions:

  1. Are we paying employees the current minimum wage?
  2. Are we paying employees all of straight time earnings for hours worked under 40 hours in a fixed seven-day workweek?
  3. Are we paying employees one and one-half times the regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 hours in a fixed seven-day workweek?
  4. Are we giving employees a 10-minute break or intermittent breaks at the end of the third hour of work and are we giving employees a 30-minute unpaid meal period for working more than 5 hours? (Alternatively, are you compensating employees who work during these periods?)
  5. Are we paying employees at least once a month?

These simple questions do not attempt to capture the detail of exemptions, administrative codes, statutes, and case law. Nonetheless, as an attorney who regularly represents employees against employers for wage claims, these simple questions asked regularly would dramatically reduce employee-employer wage litigation.

[1] Washington-based Federal Justice Center reported 8,126 federal wage-and-hour lawsuits were filed between April 1, 2013, and March 31, 2014, See also More Workers Are Claiming Wage Theft, New York Times, Greenhouse, Steven published August 31, 2014 available here.

[2] See Parrish v. West Coast Hotel Co., 185 Wash. 581, 55 P.2d 1083 (1936), Washington Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of a Washington minimum wage law for women and children. See Also Court in Larsen v. Rice, 100 Wash. 642, 171 P. 1037 (1918); Spokane Hotel Co. v. Younger, 113 Wash. 359, 194 P. 595 (1920). Parrish was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379, 57 S. Ct. 578 (1937), overruling Adkins v. Children’s Hospital, 261 U.S. 525, 43 S. Ct. 394 (1923), which struck down a similar District of Columbia law on substantive due process grounds.