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December 2021

Washington State 2022 Employment Law Updates

As we ring in the new year employers should be aware of updates to some Washington and local employment laws set to go into effect in January 2022. 

Minimum Wage Increase

Washington’s minimum wage increases in 2022 from $13.69 an hour to $14.49 an hour.[1]  The minimum wage for particular cities in Washington may be higher than the state’s minimum wage, so be sure to verify.  For example, the city of Seattle’s minimum wage for 2022 is $17.27 per hour for employers with 501 or more employees or employees with 500 or fewer employees if the employer does not contribute at least $1.52 per hour toward the employee’s medical benefits and/or where the employee does not earn at least $1.52 per hours in tips.[2]  For employers with 500 or fewer employees that meet the contribution requirement, the 2022 minimum wage is $15.75 per hour.

New Salary Thresholds for Overtime Exempt Employers[3]

The minimum wage increase will necessarily increase the prior salary thresholds for employees exempt from overtime and other protections of the Minimum Wage Act.  Effective January 1, 2022, the threshold salary level will be 1.75 times the current state minimum wage for large and small employers:

  • Small businesses (1-50 employees):  An exempt employee must earn a salary of at least 1.75 times the minimum wage, or $1,014.30 per week ($52,743.60/year).
  • Large businesses (51 or more employees): An exempt employee must earn a salary of at least 1.75 times the minimum wage, or $1,014.30 per week ($52,743.60/year).

Additionally, the minimum wage increase will necessarily increase the prior hourly rates for computer professionals who are paid by the hour.  The increase will be as follows:

  • Small businesses (1-50 employees):  An exempt computer professional paid hourly must earn at least 3.5 times the minimum wage, or $50.72 per hour.
  • Large businesses (51 or more employees):  An exempt computer professional paid hourly must earn at least 3.5 times the minimum wage, or $50.72 per hour.

Computer professionals paid by salary are subject to the same salary thresholds as other professionals.  The state thresholds are higher than the federal threshold ($684/week or $35,568/year).  Washington employers have been required to meet state thresholds since 2021.

Washington Cares Fund:

On December 17, 2021, Governor Inslee, Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, and House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, announced that the state is delaying the start of the mandatory payroll tax intended to fund the long-term care bill.  They strongly encourage employers to “pause on collecting premiums from employees, giving [the Legislature] time to pass legislation extending implementation dates until next year.”[4]

Minimum wage for agricultural workers:

Beginning January 1, 2022, non-dairy agricultural workers will be subject to a 55-hour work week. Employees working more than 55-hours per week will be entitled to one and one-half times their regular rate of pay.[5]

The weekly threshold will decrease until 2024: 55 hours per week in 2022; 48 hours per week in 2023; 40 hours per week in 2024.[6]

This law does not apply to dairy workers. Dairy workers are entitled to receive overtime for any work above 40-hours in a workweek.[7]

Wage Lien for Claims on Unpaid Wages:

In 2021, Washington enacted a wage-lien statute called the Washington Wage Recovery Act, SB 5355. The new law goes into effect on January 1, 2022.[8]

Under this new law, all employees, except statutory defined “highly compensated employees,” can file a lien against their employer for unpaid wages and other compensation, including “interest, statutory damages, liquidated damages, attorneys’ fees and costs, or statutory penalties that may be owed for violation of a local, state, or federal wage claim.” Legislators patterned the unpaid wage lien on similar construction lien statutes. Like construction liens, employees must file a lien in the county where their employer has property subject to a lien. The employee must also describe the property subject to a lien and the amount of the lien.

The lien can be effective against real property owned by the employer, goods and tangible chattel paper in Washington, and accounts and payment intangibles in Washington.[9] The term “employer” includes corporations, LLCs, and partnerships. The term also encompasses people acting “directly or indirectly in the interest of the employer,” which will most likely include officers, presidents, and agents of the company. The law specifies when the employer is a person, the employee can file a wage lien against the community interest of both spouses or both domestic partners and the employer’s estate.

Finally, the employee can recover attorneys’ fees for prevailing in a foreclosure action.

Non-compete Agreements

Washington increased the threshold for enforceable non-compete agreements. Non-compete agreements are void against employees earning less than $107,301.04 in 2022 and against independent contractors earning less than $268,252.59.[10]

Employers may wish to consult with counsel for additional guidance. Should you have additional questions, please reach out to your trusted Gordon & Rees attorney. 

Employment Law

Daniel O. Culicover
Nicole E. Demmon

Employment Law