employee rights

How to File a Wage Complaint in Washington State


For wage complaints in Washington, you have rights when it comes to being paid appropriately.

It’s important to know what you’re entitled to receive as an employee in the state of Washington. Here it is:

  • the minimum wage (which, as of now, is $11.00/hour)
  • overtime paid for any hours worked over 40 per week (overtime being ‘time and a half’ pay)
  • payment without any illegal or unexplained deductions
  • payment on following payday if employee is fired or quits

Can an attorney help you obtain the wages you are owed?

Absolutely. In fact, not only can an attorney help, but in many cases the law provides that the employer must pay you TWICE the amount the employer failed to pay you. More importantly, when a business shortchanges you or doesn’t pay you what you are owed, the business may be ordered to pay all of the attorney fees so there is no out of pocket cost to you. This can mean you get twice the amount owed to you and the attorney gets paid his or her fees – so you don’t pay anything!  

The laws are written to help the employee and punish the employer for withholding wages. In this situation, even a small withholding can be expensive for the employer.  As an example – an improper $1500 withholding may end up costing the business many times that when the case is done, and that doesn’t include paying for their own attorney.  

As an example – an improper $1500 withholding may end up costing the business many times that when the case is done, and that doesn’t include paying for their own attorney.  

What about when a person is fired?

This is always tricky and a place where a lot of companies make mistakes. The employee must be paid for the last day’s work at the regular pay day covering the day or week the person quits or is fired.

Sometimes employers will withhold money from the paycheck or delay paying while they “process” the person out of the company. Big mistake: if the employee is not paid on time, the employee may contact an attorney and file suit immediately.  The employee doesn’t have to wait while the employer sorts out their books. This allows the employee to collect twice the amount owed and attorney fees.

What are my employee rights when my employer says I am salaried and not entitled to Overtime?

This issue is also complicated. State and Federal laws are both involved in determining if you really are a salaried employee. Just because your employer says you are salaried, it doesn’t mean you are. You must be in a job that qualifies as a salaried position such as an executive, administrative or professional employee.  

Often employers will claim a person is exempt as an administrative employee, but you must look beyond what the employer says and look at the actual job duties. If the person really doesn’t have administrative duties, they may be an hourly employee instead and entitled to overtime.

I’m salaried but my employer made me take vacation when I went home an hour early.

The employer is almost always wrong if they do this. Being salaried is a benefit that works both ways. The benefit to the company is that they can make the salaried employee work overtime. On the other hand, the employee is given flexibility with their schedules that hourly employees don’t have.  

Except for some government jobs, salaried employees are generally paid to do a job, not simply to be on site. This is why they are exempt from overtime. If they can get the job done early, the salaried employee may be able to leave when the hourly employee can’t (without taking vacation).

If an employer treats salaried employees like hourly employees and makes them “watch the clock”, the employer may convert the position to an hourly one, requiring the employer to pay overtime. If they do that, they may have to pay twice the back pay and attorney fees to the employee. 

Employers and employees need to know the rules – that’s where we can help.  

What about calling the State?

Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries will investigate wage claims for you, but they are a state agency and you are just one of many complaints they receive. Hiring an attorney for a wage claim puts you in charge and the law gives you and your attorney tools to help you.

Just so you know here’s the process for filing a wage claim with the state:

How the wage complaint process works

  • File the complaint. You can do this in writing or you can find the L&I wage complaint form (available at their office or online).
  • Wait for L&I to investigate the complaint. You should hear from them within 60 days. Once that happens, L&I will either make a “citation and assessment” (making the employer pay unpaid wages) or a “determination” (finding that your employer is not at fault and does not over you anything).

What to do before filing a wage complaint

It’s very important to talk to a lawyer before choosing to file a wage complaint. They can help you determine which path to take (going to court or going through L&I); you can’t do both at the same time. Also, you need to be aware of time limits on making claims.  If you wait too long you can miss your chance to make a wage claim.

We have a team at Northwest Legal Advocates that specializes in labor and employment law. All attorneys are former guild or labor union leaders. We know how to get you fair treatment and compensation from your employers.

Posted on August 24, 2017. Filed under Employment.

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