Employment relationship

State-specific laws

What state-specific laws govern the employment relationship?

 A myriad of Washington state laws govern the employment relationship. Those laws are discussed in more detail with respect to specific topics. They include:

  • the Washington Law Against Discrimination;
  • the Washington Minimum Wage Act;
  • the Washington Industrial Insurance Act;
  • the Washington Family Leave Act (soon to be replaced by the Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, which takes full effect in 2020);
  • the Washington Paid Sick Leave law;
  • the Washington Fair Chance Act; and
  • the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act.

In addition, local laws govern the employment relationship. For example, Seattle employers are subject to the Seattle Paid Sick and Safe Time Ordinance, the Seattle Minimum Wage Ordinance, and the Seattle Secure Scheduling Ordinance. 

Who do these cover, including categories of workers?

Each law covers employees located in Washington (or, as the case may be, employees in particular cities). In general, the laws do not extend to independent contractors. Certain laws expressly exclude specific categories of worker.


Are there state-specific rules regarding employee/contractor misclassification?

 No Washington law directly penalizes employers for misclassification of employees as independent contractors. However, misclassification of employees may involve violations of other statutes, resulting in civil penalties. For example, an employer’s failure to pay workers’ compensation premiums for misclassified employees or failure to pay correct wages to misclassified employees may result in penalties. There is no safe harbor under Washington law for unintentional misclassification of workers as independent contractors.


Must an employment contract be in writing?

An employment contract need not be in writing unless it is subject to the statute of frauds. For example, an agreement that by its terms is not to be performed in one year from the making of the agreement must be in writing. 

Are any terms implied into employment contracts?

The covenant of good faith and fair dealing is implied into every employment contract.

Are mandatory arbitration agreements enforceable?

Yes, with the exception of claims involving sexual harassment or sexual assault in the workplace. It is still an open question whether the Federal Arbitration Act pre-empts the Washington State law precluding confidential arbitration of sexual harassment and sexual assault claims.

How can employers make changes to existing employment agreements?

How changes may be made to an existing employment agreement largely depends on the terms of the agreement and whether the agreement contractually limits amendments.

If an employer wants to enter into a new non-compete agreement with an existing employee, the employer must provide additional consideration beyond mere continued employment.