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The inside story

Giving employers a uniform answer

May 19, 2014

By Aaron Hoffman


Pop quiz – Sally Smith is opening a western-themed restaurant and she wants her employees to look the part. She requires her servers to wear a cowboy hat, plaid shirt, blue jeans, and cowboy boots. Since this is the required uniform, does Sally have to pay for these clothing items?

If you said “yes” and “no,” you are correct!

Here is the breakdown:

  • Cowboy hat – yes
  • Plaid shirt – yes
  • Blue jeans – no
  • Cowboy boots - yes

Why is this? Washington state law requires an employer to pay for the full cost of an employee’s uniform if it meets these tests:

  1. Clothing clearly identifying the person as an employee of a specific employer.
  2. Apparel specially marked with the employer’s logo.
  3. Unique apparel to identify historical or ethnic background.
  4. Formal attire.

Since the western wear theme falls into the third category, the employer must pay for the items. However, there is a twist. Since blue jeans are considered “common colors,” Sally doesn’t need to pick up the tab on the jeans.

More questions? Check out these L&I administrative policies:



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Thinking positive: Pregnancy and your job

June 11, 2014
By Kyra Ingraham


It’s positive. They are two lines that can change your life. And as thousands of questions race through your mind, one question is likely to be “How will this affect my job?”

Here’s what you need to know about workplace rights for pregnant women:

  1. Can they fire me for being pregnant?
    The simple answer is no. It’s illegal to fire an employee because she’s pregnant. However, if your employer is doing layoffs due to a slow or failing business, your position can be included, regardless of your pregnancy. In addition, you can still be fired or disciplined for performance problems.
  2. How much leave can I use, and is it paid?
    Employees are given 12 weeks of leave through the Washington State Family Leave Act (FLA). This law builds on the similar existing federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which also offers 12 weeks of leave. In both laws you have to:
    • Work for a company that has more than 50 employees in a 75 mile radius
    • Have worked for the company for at least 12 months. The months don’t have to be consecutive, but you must have worked at least 1,250 hours before your leave starts.
    Washington State Family Leave Act must run after your pregnancy disability has ended (which FMLA doesn’t account for), so depending on your medical needs throughout the pregnancy you may actually be eligible for at least 18 weeks of leave.
    It is important to remember, though, that none of the laws require that this leave is paid. Some employers may offer short term disability pay, but for the most part you’re on your own (squirrel it away now!) or you must use some sort of leave to get a paycheck.
  3. Is my employer required to hold my job for me?
    Yes and no. The employer is required to allow you to return to work, but they’re not required to hold your exact position open. If they choose not to return you to your exact position, they must then have a similar position for you.
  4. Do I have to tell my boss right away?
    Once your pregnancy has an estimated end date (so close but yet so far!), you’re required to give your employer at least 30 days’ notice of when you’ll be starting your leave. If, however, you don’t realize you’re pregnant (hey, there are TV shows on it so it obviously happens), or you’re adopting a child where the placement is less than 30 days, the law simply requires you to tell your boss as soon as possible.
  5. How can L&I help me?
    If you feel your rights or benefits have been violated, call L&I at 1-866-219-7321. If it’s a bona fide complaint, L&I will investigate the complaint and, if warranted, issue a citation. You also have the right to sue your employer in a civil court.

For more information visit:



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Who you gonna call? EMPLEO…

June 23, 2014
By Matthew Erlich

EMPLEO doesn’t have anything to do with ghosts, but it is a way for recent immigrants to find out about workplace rights and other issues.

What’s the number: 877-552-9832 or 877-55AYUDA.

EMPLEO, Employment Education and Outreach, is in its 10th year as a federal program with partnerships among states, consulates and nonprofit organizations.

The line, with operators who speak Spanish and English, recently opened for Washington state. L&I Fraud Prevention and Labor Standards Assistant Director Elizabeth Smith (in the pink jacket) highlighted the partnership and the need for farmworker services.

For more information, see the U.S. Department of Labor site.



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5 things you need to know about hiring teen workers

August 7, 2014
By Aaron Hoffman and Kyra Ingraham

Thinking about hiring a teen to work for your business during summer break or after school starts? Here are the answers to some of the most common questions we get from new employers:

What kind of permits and records do I need?
Any employer hiring a minor must:

  • Get a Minor Work Permit endorsement on their Master Business License. This can be done at the Business Licensing Service or any UBI service location, including the Department of Labor & Industries.
  • Keep the following information on file:
    • Proof of age
    • Personal data (name, address, date of birth and a copy of the minor’s social security card)
    • Employment description

During summer break, employers must also have a signed Parent Authorization Summer Work form for each teen worker. This form needs to be renewed every year.

Things change when the school year starts. Then employers must complete a Parent/School Authorization form, which includes additional school information and signatures.

What is the minimum wage for teen workers?
The minimum wage for 16- and 17-year-old workers is the same as for adults — $9.32 in 2014. Minors under 16 may be paid 85% of the state minimum wage ($7.92).

Are family members employees?
Yes! If the family member is a teen, there are some special items to remember. First, the minimum age requirement for working at a family business is 14 years old. Second, it’s important to remember though that even family, no matter how annoying, still needs to be treated legally and given appropriate breaks (a paid 10-minute break for every 4 hours worked, and an unpaid 30-minute lunch for every 5 hours worked).

Here is an example: Jane owns a construction company. Her 17-year-old son, John, wants a summer job. If John performed work for the company and Jane gave him anything of value for his labor, then she would need to:

  • Pay minimum wage and overtime
  • Provide a safe working environment
  • Pay workers’’ comp on John’s hours
  • Pay unemployment insurance on John’s wages
  • File federal payroll taxes
  • Get a Minor Work Permit
  • Follow all of the teen worker restrictions (There are a lot of them in construction!)

What about agricultural jobs?
As with family workers, the minimum age for teens working in agricultural jobs is 14 years old. The one exception is 12- and 13-year-olds may work during non-school months (June 1 to Labor Day) hand-harvesting berries, bulbs, cucumbers and spinach.

There are also a few exceptions regarding what wages minor agricultural workers make.

If a minor worker is a hand harvest laborer who is paid per piece picked and commutes each day from their permanent residence and works less than 13 weeks in the calendar year, he or she can be paid less than the minimum wage. For example, this could include teen workers living in the local community who harvest berries during the season but don’t normally work in agriculture at any other time.

Where can I get information about teen workers?
To learn more, including rules on hiring teens for house-to-house sales, theater work or sports work, or hiring minors under the age of 14:



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Easing tensions in wage complaints

September 16, 2014
By Matthew Erlich

At L&I, we receive thousands of wage complaints annually and each can be tense for employer and worker. It’s our industrial relations agents who can make all the difference for both sides.

A May wage complaint filed against a Redmond company turned into a compliment after the work of Ana Gamino. Ana investigated the case against NKS Home Services that resulted in complimentary comments for L&I from owner Hong Sodona.

“As a new small business owner, receiving a notice from a government agency can be quite intimidating,” wrote Hong. “Ana’s professionalism, kindness and patience helped guide me every step of the way towards resolving the issue following the law. Her grace and professionalism has won my trust to your agency.”

Here’s how Ana did it: We received a complaint for $920.90 for unpaid overtime against NKS. Also, there was an allegation the employer had been deducting $400 from the employee without consent.

As to the $400, it turned out it was being deducted as a previously agreed-to payback for a loan. “I informed the employee that I interpreted this as an implied agreement and that I did not agree that we should have the employer pay back the deductions,” Ana explained. The employee still owes $6,500.

But the overtime was another matter. NKS agreed it was their company’s mistake and forwarded payment after Ana’s explanation. “The employer was brand new and needed guidance in different areas,” Ana explained. “We went over the best practices to avoid these types of complaints.”

Hong said the information was helpful. “She forwarded me the related laws and explained to me in details my responsibility as a business owner and gave me advice to avoid issues in the future,” Hong said. “She treated me with respect and complete professionalism.”

L&I Director Joel Sacks also credited Ana for her work, and noted the agency has limited chances to make a good impression. “We build our reputation one interaction at a time,” he said.

In 2013, we received 3,867 wage complaints and returned $3.3 million to workers. Since passage of the Wage Payment Act in 2006, we have collected and returned approximately $13 million in unpaid wages to nearly 20,000 Washington workers.

Workers can file a wage complaint with us at A complaint must contain a sufficient description of hours worked and wages owed. In most cases, we will give the employer a copy of the complaint, including the name of the worker. It is against the law for a business to fire or otherwise discriminate against you for filing a complaint about a possible violation of your workplace rights.



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Washington state’s minimum wage: “Let’s do the numbers…”

October 2, 2014
By Matthew Erlich

The state’s minimum wage will increase 15 cents to $9.47 an hour beginning January 1, 2015. By law, L&I calculates the amount and reports it this time of year. But how is the calculation made? Let’s, as they say, do the numbers:

The minimum wage is tied to the federal Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), so the first step is to get the numbers. We go to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and get this year’s number (234.030) and last year’s number (230.359). Then we calculate the percent the numbers have changed, and come up with 1.59%.

The next step is calculating the minimum wage. Now, here’s the important part, we multiply the 2014 minimum wage ($9.32 an hour) by the 1.59% change in the CPI-W, which is expressed mathematically this way: (1 + 1.59/100). The whole calculation looks like this:

$9.32 x (1 + (1.59/100)) or

9.32 x 1.0159 = 9.468

Expressed in dollars, that’s $9.47 an hour. And there you have it!

To learn more about the new minimum wage, see the news release or our minimum wage web page.



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