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Minimum wage

Most employees must be paid the minimum wage for all “hours worked.” “Hours worked” means all time during which an employee performs work for the benefit of the employer. This includes time spent opening or closing a business and required meetings and training. Also included is time spent by an employee voluntarily continuing to work on an assigned task at the end of a shift or on a day off. All work time must be paid for by the employer.

For 2024, the Washington State Minimum Wage is $16.28 per hour, higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Employers are required to pay employees the more favorable (i.e., higher) of the state and federal minimum wage. Several counties and cities throughout Washington State have enacted local minimum wage ordinances. Employers need to know what minimum wage applies to their employees.

Minimum Wages Around Washington

Cities can set minimum wages higher than the state. Bellingham, SeaTac, Seattle, and Tukwila have higher wages, and the hyperlinks below connect to resource pages for each city.

Bellingham: Bellingham Municipal Code
SeaTac: Employment Standards Ordinance
Seattle: Minimum Wage Ordinance
Tukwila: Minimum Wage and Fair Access to Additional Hours of Work

Overtime

Most employees who work more than 40 hours in a 7-day work week must be paid overtime compensation for all hours worked over 40 hours. For every overtime hour worked, the employee must be paid 1.5 times the employee’s regular rate of pay. An employee’s “regular rate” is not necessarily the same as an employee’s fixed or straight time rate. The regular rate includes all compensation for employment paid to the employee divided by the number of hours worked in the week for which the compensation was intended. Payments such as commission payments, premium pay, and non-discretionary bonuses are included in the regular rate. Discretionary compensation, expense reimbursements, and pay for unworked time (e.g., holiday, vacation, sick pay) does not need to be included when calculating the regular rate.

Exempt

State and federal law provides exemption from overtime pay for employees employed as bona fide executive, administrative, professional, or outside sales employees. To qualify for the exemption, employees must meet certain tests regarding their job duties and be paid on a salary basis. Job titles do not determine exempt status. In order for an exemption to apply, an employee’s specific job duties and salary must meet all of the requirements.

Paying an employee on a salary basis requires that the employee receive a predetermined amount of pay on a weekly basis, regardless of the quantity or quality of the hours worked. Current (as of October 2023) state law increases the minimum salary requirement incrementally until it reaches 2.5 times the state minimum wage in 2028. Effective January 1, 2024, the rule increases the minimum salary required for the executive, administrative, and professional exemptions under state law as follows:

  • Employers with 50 or Fewer Employees: $1302.40 per week
  • Employers with 51 or More Employees: $1302.40 per week

Please reference the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries Salary Threshold Implementation Schedule for the overtime exempt minimum salary threshold projections through the year 2028.

In addition to the salary basis requirements, exempt employees must also meet duties requirements. State and federal duties tests differ slightly, and employers must comply with both. The three most commonly applied exemptions are the executive, administrative, and professional exemption, which are outlined in the chart below.

State and federal law also provide exemptions for certain other categories of employees. Employers should consult with legal counsel when making a decision whether to classify an employee as exempt from overtime.

Employers are not required to pay exempt employees a higher rate of pay to work on holidays or weekends. Employers are not required to pay employees severance pay.

Common Exemptions

Executive exemption
An employee must:
1. Have the primary duty of managing the enterprise in which the employee is employed or of a customarily recognized department or subdivision.
2. Customarily or regularly direct the work of two or more full time employees or their equivalent; and
3. Have the authority to hire, fire, promote, or demote other employees or have particular weight given to suggestions and recommendations as to such decisions.
Administrative exemption
An employee’s primary duty must:
1. Involve office or non-manual work directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer or its customers.
2. Exercise discretion and independent judgment with respect to significant matters.
Examples provided in the regulations include work in areas such as finance, accounting, budgeting, auditing, quality control, purchasing, marketing, personnel management, public relations, and database administration
Professional exemption
An employee qualifies if the employee:
1. Has a primary duty of performing office or non-manual work requiring knowledge of an advanced type in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction, and whose duties require consistent exercise of discretion and judgment; or
2. Has a primary duty requiring invention, imagination, originality, or talent in a recognized field of artistic or creative endeavor.

Job duties fact sheets and case studies are available on the Washington Department of Labor & Industries Overtime Rules Resources page.

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