Today, July 5, 2017, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed into law Senate Bill 5975, a bipartisan bill providing paid family and medical leave for Washington employees. Although the law does not go into effect until 2020, here are the key details:
1. Eligible workers can take extended paid leave for a new child, a severely ill family member, or the worker's own serious health condition.
2. Both employers and employees pay into the system, but the burden to both is expected to be low. According to the Washington State Senate, an employee making $50,000 per year would pay $2.42 per week and the employer would pay $1.42 -- less than a trip to Starbucks.
3. The weekly amount paid out is capped at $1,000. Workers earning less than $1,000 per week would receive a payment of 90% of their income while on leave.
4. Two (2) additional weeks are available for health conditions related to a pregnancy.
5. Self-employed workers will only be required to pay the employee share to receive the benefits.
6. Employers with fifty (50) or fewer employees are exempt from the employer share of premiums as well.
7. Premiums will begin to be collected on January 1, 2019 from employers and employees.
8. Total annual leave is between 12 and 16 weeks maximum, depending upon the circumstances.
Washington is the 5th state to have a paid family leave program, joining California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York. If you already have paid leave options or if you want to learn more as an employer or employee, contact an employment attorney. Note that this paid leave program is a supplement to state and federal FMLA laws.
Previously, we talked about wrongful termination in Washington. The rules in Idaho are similar, but not quite the same as in Washington. Here's a summary:
Idaho is an an at-will work state, like Washington (for more details, see our previous blog post about being an at-will employee: employment-law-101-what-is-at-will-employment.html). In general, both the employer and the employee have the right to end the employment relationship in an at will setting for no reason. Certain exceptions apply in Idaho, including, but not limited to: (1) presence of an employment contract; (2) unlawful discrimination; (3) violations of collective bargaining agreements for union employees; or (4) retaliation for asserting your rights as an employee. Since employment contracts are rare in most industries, we'll focus on unlawful discrimination.
Idaho follows federal law with regard to protected classes in employment -- groups of people who cannot be fired from a job simply because of his or her membership in that class with no other legitimate reason for the termination. Those protected classes include: age (over 40), race, color, national original, sex, pregnancy, religion, and disability. Employers with five or more employees must comply with these laws. Idaho employers can always fire an employee in one of these classes for cause, meaning the employee violated a company policy or law.
In Idaho, the Idaho Commission on Human Rights (IHRC) investigates claims of employment discrimination based on Idaho state law. Federal law discrimination violations are handled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission EEOC). If an employee in Idaho is alleging discrimination as the basis for his or her wrongful termination (or other negative employment decision, like failure to promote), she may be required to file a complaint with the IHRC, the EEOC, or both.
There are other instances in Idaho where an employee may have been wrongfully terminated, including filing for workers' compensation benefits, whisteblowing (reporting violations to a governmental agency), military leave, jury duty, and family and medical leave.
Employees: if you believe you have been wrongfully terminated in Idaho, talk to an employment attorney licensed in your state as soon as possible. Certain strict timelines exist for you to take action. The consultation with an employment attorney should be free. Employers: if you have questions about hiring and firing an employee who may be in a protected class, contact an Idaho employment attorney to avoid wrongful termination claims.
Last week, we talked about at-will employment. In general, in Washington, your employer can terminate your employment for any reason or no reason, if you are an at-will employee.
But, what if you think the reason you were terminated was wrong? What exactly is wrongful termination. In Washington, wrongful termination will generally fall under the following categories: (1) employment discrimination; (2) retaliation for filing a complaint; and (3) permissible leave or time off. The following is a short summary of what these categories mean:
1. Employment Discrimination. State and federal law prohibit adverse employment actions (not hiring someone, firing someone, or not promoting someone, for example) based on discrimination. In Washington, employers cannot discriminate based on the following categories: age (over 40), race, gender, sexual orientation, sexual or gender identity, pregnancy, veterans status, religion, ethnicity, and marital status. If your membership in one of these groups is the reason for your adverse employment action, you may have a legal claim for damages.
2. Retaliation for Complaints. A variety of Washington state and federal laws protect employees from being fired for reporting wage or hour claims or for reporting violations of codes or laws (like reporting an employer for not following required environmental policies when disposing of chemicals). It is not retaliation to be terminated for challenging an employer's policies that are lawful, but you do not like.
3. Permitted Leave or Time Off. Employers in Washington are required to provide unpaid leave for sick employees and family members under the FMLA. Some counties require employers to allow employees paid leave for illness or domestic violence situations (including Spokane County). Employees in the military are permitted leave or time off for required military duty. Employers are also required to provide unpaid leave for jury duty and pregnancy.
Wrongful termination is not: being fired for being late or violating employer policy or being fired for disagreeing with your boss.
These are only general categories, and we'll delve further into the above categories in future Employment Law 101 posts. If you suspect you've been wrongfully terminated, you should contact an attorney because you have varied timelines to pursue an action.
Up next: Wrongful Termination (Idaho)
In employment settings, you often hear the term "at will" or "at will employee," but what does that really mean? It means that your employer can fire you for any reason or no reason at any time without any notice, so long as the real reason for firing you as the employee is not unlawful in some way. Almost every state has some iteration of at will employment laws. At will employment also means that the employee can leave when she or he wants as well.
Exceptions to at will employment include:
1. Employees with employment contracts (this is rare in Washington and Idaho)
2. Union employees bound by a collective bargaining or union agreement
3. Independent Contractors
If you are an at will employee, you are usually notified of that upon hiring, in an employee handbook, and in employer-led trainings. You should assume that if you are an employee in Washington or Idaho, and you don't fit one of the above-three exceptions, you are at will. Your termination is only unlawful (or, wrongful termination): (1) if you've been unlawfully discriminated against as a member of a protected class (veterans, women, persons of color, religion, sexual orientation); (2) if you've reported a violation of a local, state, or federal violation of a law or regulation; or (3) if your employer failed to follow its handbook procedures in terminating you (such as failure to follow progressive discipline policies that are in writing). We'll talk more about unlawful termination in our next Employment 101 post.
In the meantime, if you are an employee or employer with questions about being terminated or terminating, GIANTlegal is happy to help.
Last week we posted an article from the Journal of Business on our Facebook page regarding the new minimum wage rates in Washington State. The increased minimum wage is the result of an initiative, meaning a vote of the citizens, not a vote of the state legislature. As a result, the minimum wage in Washington State in most counties is now $11.00/hour. There are some exemptions for 14 and 15-year-old workers, and a few counties and municipalities have higher wages than the $11.00. However, all hourly employees must be paid a minimum of $11.00 per hour, for both agricultural and non-agricultural work.
In addition to increased minimum wage that went into effect on January 1, 2017, the City of Spokane enacted (over a mayoral veto) the Spokane Earned Safe and Sick Leave Ordinance. This applies to virtually all companies employing workings within the Spokane City limits. Here’s what you need to know:
Companies that have paid time off (PTO) or equivalent programs can substitute those policies for the earned safe & sick leave, if they are at least as generous as the Spokane ordinance. Employers who do not follow the policy can face monetary penalties and suspension of their business licenses.
Is your Spokane-based business compliant? GIANTlegal can assist you in tracking leave, setting up a PTO plan, and updating your Employee Handbooks to ensure compliance with these issues. Contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
All blog posts are written by members of the GIANTlegal team, unless otherwise indicated. Information contained in our blog does not constitute legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.