Question: An employee working remotely from her home in Seattle is demanding a raise because the Seattle minimum wage increased this year. Our company doesn’t have any locations or other employees in the city, so Seattle’s laws don’t apply to us, right?
Answer: If you have even one employee who works within the Seattle city limits, even if it’s only a few hours every once in a while, you’re probably covered by Seattle’s labor laws. All employers are required to comply with Seattle’s labor laws for their employees who spend time working in Seattle. It may be tempting to think that non-compliance isn’t that risky when you’re not a Seattle company, or that other companies can’t possibly be following these local rules, but non-compliance can be costly. As an example, Domino’s Pizza recently settled charges by the Seattle Office of Labor Standards for violations of Seattle’s minimum wage rules, wage theft ordinance, and secure scheduling requirements for over $2 million. Just this month, a traffic control company agreed to pay more than $250,000 to settle charges that they violated Seattle’s minimum wage rules, paid sick and safe time requirements, and wage theft ordinance. Here's a brief summary of the Seattle labor laws that may apply:
Minimum Wage: Any employee who works more than two hours in Seattle in a two-week period must be paid at least Seattle’s minimum wage rate for each hour worked in Seattle. The current minimum wage is $17.27 per hour, but employers with 500 or fewer employees (worldwide) can pay $15.75 per hour if they provide at least $1.52 per hour in medical benefits or if the employee earns that much in tips.
Paid Sick and Safe Time (PSST): Applies to all employers with one or more employees who work in Seattle as part of their regular schedule or work in Seattle on an occasional basis (more than 240 hours in a year). PSST is required for all exempt and non-exempt employees in Seattle and may require a higher rate of accrual and more generous terms than Washington Paid Sick Leave. Employers must have a written policy that includes specific details about paid sick and safe leave.
Wage Theft: For each employee who works two or more hours within Seattle city limits within a two-week period, the employer must provide written notice of certain terms of employment, reimburse all business expenses, and keep specific records of employment.
Commuter benefits: Employers with 20 or more employees worldwide are required to offer pre-tax or discounted commuter benefits to all employees who work in Seattle an average of ten or more hours per week.
Fair Chance Employment: For any job where at least half of the duties are performed in Seattle, employers cannot ask applicants about their criminal history or conduct a criminal background check until after the initial screening for job qualifications. Also, acceptable business reasons for refusing to hire an applicant due to their criminal record are limited, and the applicant must be given a chance to explain the criminal history information.
Secure Scheduling: Only retail and food service establishments with 500 or more employees worldwide, and full-service restaurants with 500 or more employees and at least 40 full-service restaurant locations, are covered by this ordinance. These employers are required to provide advance notice of employee work schedules, compensate employees in certain circumstances when their work schedules change, and comply with other scheduling requirements for non-exempt employees who work at least 50 percent of their time in Seattle.
You can find more information about any of these labor laws on the Seattle Office of Labor Standards website. They also offer free, private compliance assistance to employers, which you can access by calling 206-256-5297 or emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Vigilant members can download our Seattle Paid Sick and Safe Time Policy for model policy language that complies with Seattle requirements. Your Vigilant Law Group employment attorney can also assist you with any questions.