Yesterday, the Senate Labor Committee of the Washington State Legislature heard public comment on Senate Bill 5514. This bill, in its current form, would allow for a “good faith” exception for employers who relied on any order, directive, or written ruling to escape owing back wages to employees.
As an injury and employment attorney, I regularly represent low-wage workers in the recovery of back wages. Clients come to me with coffee-stained pay stubs and confusion on why they are being shorted $80 a week, or denied rest breaks, or told to work “off-the-clock”. It is sometimes a heart-wrenching conversation to tell a client that recovery of those wages may involve years of litigation.
This bill, if law, would create another barrier for workers to recover those wages. Allowing an employer a “good faith” exception might incentivize some employers to pay even less attention to current wage laws and would allow an employer to escape not only civil penalties, but the actual wages owed.
Yet, existing law already allows for an employer to avoid civil penalties under RCW 49.48.083, if the employer “reasonably relied” upon a rule, order, or administrative policy. This means, that in the event of a bona fide dispute, the employer would be liable for back wages only, and not an additional penalty issued by the Department of Labor and Industries. This is fair.
This bill runs counter to a very long and proud history of protecting workers from wage theft in Washington. If employers are going to take on the responsibility of an employee, they must know the wage laws that ensure each worker receives honest pay for honest work. Ignorantia juris non excusat (“Ignorance of the law does not excuse”).
If you also oppose this bill or are interested in submitting your own written comments, you can contact your state legislator or comment here.
 Drinkwitz v. Alliant Techsystems, Inc., 140 Wn.2d 291, 996 P.2d 582 (2000). Statement repeated. E.g.: Pellino v. Brink’s Inc., 164 Wn.App. 668, 684, 267 P.3d 383 (Div. 1 2011); Bostain v. Food Exp., Inc., 159 Wn.2d 700, 153 P.3d 846, 852 (2007). See Also Davies v. Seattle, 67 Wash. 532,121 P. 987 (1912), Washington Supreme court enforcing an 8-hour work day statute in holding workers were “working” when asked to harness horses for travelling to and from job sites.