Starting January 2024, Washington state will see the enactment of several new employment law changes that will affect minimum wage regulations and impose additional obligations under the state’s Paid Sick Leave Law. There are also new laws regarding pre-employment drug screening to protect future employees.
Changes to Minimum Wage Laws
The minimum wage landscape is set to undergo a substantial shift in Washington. Come January 1, 2024, the state's minimum wage will skyrocket to $16.28 per hour, marking a 3.4% increase from the previous year. This leap will position Washington with the highest state-level minimum wage in the nation, more than double the federal rate of $7.25.
This increased minimum wage applies to employees aged 16 and above, while those aged 14 or 15 may receive $13.84 per hour. However, certain cities in Washington have even higher minimum wage requirements. In Seattle, for instance, the minimum wage depends on the size of the employer. Starting January 1, 2024, minimum wage rates in Seattle will be adjusted:
Employers with 501 or more employees: $19.97/hour
Employers with 500 or fewer employees: $19.97/hour or $17.25/hour if the employer contributes $2.72/hour toward medical benefits or the employee receives $2.72/hour in tips.
Additionally, in Tukwila, minimum wage rates will vary based on employer size starting January 1, 2024:
Employers with 501 or more employees: $20.29/hour
Employers with 15-500 employees or generating over $2 million annual gross revenue: $18.29 (effective Jan. 1, 2024) and $19.29 (effective July 1, 2024)
Employers with 1-14 employees: $16.28/hour
Changes to Washington's Paid Sick Leave Law
Simultaneously, changes are being made to Washington’s Paid Sick Leave Law, ensuring that construction workers—who often work for multiple employers within a short timeframe—are included in the paid sick leave program. Starting January 1, 2024, employers must compensate accrued but unused sick leave for construction workers who have not reached their 90th day of employment upon separation from the job. This provision however, does not apply to employers engaged solely in residential building construction.
Changes to Pre-employment Drug Screening
In addition, on January 1, 2024, Washington employers will be prohibited from discriminating against job applicants based on their personal use of cannabis outside of work premises. Specifically, these employers cannot base hiring decisions on pre-employment drug screenings that detect nonpsychoactive cannabis metabolites. Testing providers conducting screenings inclusive of nonpsychoactive cannabis results are barred from reporting these findings to the employer.
There are exceptions are outlined within the new statute. They include:
- roles necessitating federal government clearance
- law enforcement
- fire departments
- first responders
- corrections officers
- airline and aerospace positions
- and safety-critical roles where impairment could substantially risk lives.
Of these exceptions, the most impactful for a wide array of employers will be the safety-sensitive position exemption. Crucially, applicants must be informed in advance that the position is safety-sensitive before applying for the job. Employers should ensure that job descriptions distinctly identify safety-sensitive roles, and any personnel engaging with applicants are well-informed about these positions and relay this information to applicants pre-application.
As the new year approaches, employers should be diligent. They must verify that all nonexempt employees earn at least the minimum wage, particularly if they have a workforce spanning multiple cities where wage variations may exist. This period also presents an opportunity for employers to review and ensure adherence to overtime policies and align their practices with the updated regulations concerning Washington’s Paid Sick Leave Law and pre-employment drug screening policies.