With the Washington State minimum wage currently set at $12.00 an hour, and Seattle having raised the city minimum to $15 an hour, the current push by the labor movement is being watched carefully by parties on both sides of the minimum wage debate. One of the primary points of contention is a rule change that could make a quarter of a million Washington State salaried workers eligible for overtime pay who weren’t before. 

Salaried Employee Exemption in Washington State

Salaried workers are people who earn a fixed salary regardless of how many hours they work. Current Federal standards, which have not been updated in over 15 years, dictate that salaried workers must make at least $23,660 dollars to be exempt from overtime pay due to working over 40 hours a week. At 40 hours weekly, that amounts to just over $11.35 an hour. As of January 1st, 2020 that salary threshold is set to jump to $35,568, or just over $17.00 an hour in Washington state.

This is considered a substantial victory by workers advocates, despite disappointment that this number falls short of an Obama administration proposal that would have set the bar at $47,000 a year or just under $22.60 an hour. While Washington state is currently adhering to Federal guidelines, that standard is due to change as early as early as December. Under proposed W&I guidelines, employees at companies with less than 50 people would be considered salaried at $35,000 while workers at larger companies would hit the threshold at $49,000. The latter employees would also be subjected to a job duties test. 

These bars would rise gradually starting in 2022 and continuing until 2026, when all Washington state employees, regardless of staff size, would be expected to reach a level of 2.5 times the state minimum wage to be considered salaried and exempt from overtime wages. The end result of all this is that the new salaried guidelines will affect the wages of roughly 77,000 people in 2020, and inflate to cover more than 252,000 affected workers by 2026. The change is being debated furiously, with some employers saying the new guidelines will cause undue and substantial hardship to their bottom line, while the other side maintains this is a measure that will allow working class Washingtonians to keep pace with rapidly rising costs of living. 

The Federal minimum wage has been a hot button topic in recent years with proponents of an increase citing rising wage inequality and a broadening wealth gap between working class and wealthy Americans. 

What is the Current Minimum Wage in Seattle?

The city of Seattle, Washington has responded to the issue by a citywide minimum wage increase to $15.75 an hour for employees of businesses with less than 500 workers, and $16.39 per hour for larger companies beginning in 2020. Federal minimum wage has been fixed at $7.25 an hour since 2009, but the House voted recently to raise it to $15/00 an hour.

Archived Content from 2019 Below

In recent years, minimum wage laws, and guidance around them, have been shifting across the country. In Washington State, we’re seeing some some big changes, too: We’re in the middle of a gradual statewide increase, and some local municipalities have made their own changes that have direct and indirect impacts on the rest of the state.

Washington State’s minimum wage is $12.00 an hour starting January 1, 2019, but that figure is complicated by local laws, specific industries, employee ages, and other factors.The City of Seattle’s $15 minimum wage is one of the most notable local increases.

Read on to get all the information you need about the minimum wage in Washington state in 2019.

What was the 2019 Minimum Wage in Washington State?

Starting in 2019, Washington’s minimum wage is $12.00, part of a higher minimum wage phase-in set in motion by Initiative 1433, which voters approved in fall 2016. As a result, the state has issued a number of guidance documents related to minimum wage rules and rates. The initiative impacted employee wages in four important ways:

  1. As of 2018, employers must provide paid sick leave to most employees.
  2. After a set ramp-up period for a few years, minimum wage will get cost-of-living increases based on the Consumer Price Index.
  3. Tips and service charges must be distributed to staff.
  4. Employees are protected from retaliation for exercising minimum wage rights

These four changes impact employers and employees alike. In particular, changes to minimum wage rates and paid sick leave have raised a lot of questions.

The minimum wage increase mandated by I-1433 was designed to roll out gradually, starting at $11 in 2017 and $11.50 in 2018. 2019, at $12, is the last step before the phase-in completes in 2020, when the minimum wage will be $13.50. In 2021 and beyond, minimum wage increases will depend on the cost of living.

There are further subtleties to the minimum wage rules for 2019. The rules apply to all jobs, including agriculture, and to all employees 16 and older. However, employees under 16 can be paid 85 percent of the minimum wage, which comes to $10.20 per hour. The initiative does not impact overtime pay rates—those regulations are the same as they were before.

I-1433 also requires that Washington State employers give their employees paid sick leave. This requirement kicked in January 1, 2018. A few highlights:

  • Most employees must accrue at least one hour of paid sick leave per 40 hours worked.
  • These employees will get paid at their normal hourly rate when using sick leave, and in increments consistent with your payroll (e.g., by the hour or quarter-hour).
  • Unused sick leave up to 40 hours must roll over to the next year (although employers are welcome to allow more).
  • Paid sick leave can be used for things like caring for themselves and family members

Have more questions? The state spells out all the new rules related to paid sick leave here.

Bear in mind that cities have their own, sometimes more strict paid sick leave requirements. Seattle employers, for example, are beholden to stricter roll-over and accrual requirements in some cases. Spokane, on the other hand, let their separate requirements sunset as the state passed its own laws.

How does Seattle’s $15 Minimum Wage Affect the Rest of the State?

Seattle has different minimum wage rules than the rest of the state thanks to to a Minimum Wage Ordinance passed by the Seattle City Council, which went into effect in April 2015. Since then, the minimum wage has been gradually increasing to $15 an hour—although the biggest employers now have to pay their employees more than that.

According to the laws in Washington state, employers must defer to the laws in individual cities when it comes to minimum wage. So even though the Washington state minimum wage is $12 in 2019, the Seattle city minimum wage is sometimes higher, ranging between $12 and $16 depending on the size of the company and what other benefits are provided. Starting in 2021, all Seattle employers will have to pay a minimum wage of at least $15 an hour.

While there are many nuances to the ordinance and how it affects different businesses and employees, the city minimum wage only has a minimal impact on the statewide minimum wage. The bottom line: If you are operating your business within the city of Seattle you will have to obey minimum wage laws for the city.

Has the Minimum Wage Increased in Washington State?

Yes, the minimum wage has increased in Washington state and will continue to rise for at least the next year—and after that, it could still rise every year depending on inflation. This increase was approved by voters in 2016 with I-1433.

When Does Minimum Wage Go Up in Washington State?

The changes mandated by I-1433 go into effect slowly, with changes each year. Where minimum wage isn’t governed by local law, wages increase every January 1. As of January 1, 2019, the minimum wage has risen again in the state.

Minimum Wage History in Washington State

Changes to city and state minimum wage have taken effect slowly in Washington. Changes to the state minimum wage are not new—the latest batch of increases started a few years ago, but there’s a long history of wage changes in the state.

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries has documented the history of minimum wage changes in the state as far back as 1961. One of the first major changes approved by Washington votes was approved in 1998. Initiative 688 called for changes to the minimum wage based on cost of living adjustments. The changes were set to take place between 2001 and 2016.

Later came Initiative 1433, which was approved in 2016. It required a statewide minimum wage of $11 in 2017, $11.50 in 2018, $12 in 2019, and $13.50 in 2020. In 2021 and beyond, cost of living adjustments will be required for determining fluctuations to the minimum wage rate.

Here is the full breakdown of minimum wage changes in the state since 1961. Each change took effect on January 1 of the year noted.

Year Minimum Wage Rate in Washington State
1961 $1.15
1962 $1.25
1968 $1.60
1974 $1.80
1975 $2
1976 $2.30
1989 $3.85
1990 $4.25
1994 $4.90
1997 $5.15
1999 $5.70
2000 $6.50
2001 $6.72
2002 $6.90
2003 $7.01
2004 $7.16
2005 $7.35
2006 $7.63
2007 $7.93
2008 $8.07
2009 $8.55
2010 $8.55
2011 $8.67
2012 $9.04
2013 $9.19
2014 $9.32
2015 $9.47
2016 $9.47
2017 $11
2018 $11.50
2019 $12
State by State compared to national minimum wage

Source: Wikipedia.org

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