Employment Legislation Under Consideration in Washington State

Washington State Capitol BuildingThe legislative session is over and, as I write, we’re now in the special session, which is focused primarily on solving the state’s budget issues.  This last session, the legislature mostly dealt with some major social issues, and although bills dealing with employees and workforce management were introduced, few were passed.

It’s always a good idea to review employment-related bills, whether or not they pass, as they will no doubt resurface again — and may even pass in a session where the budget moves off the front burner.

Requiring Use of E-Verify

The proposed bill would have prohibited the state, counties or cities from requiring a private sector employer to use E-Verify, the government’s electronic employment verification system.

Illegal immigration is always a hot topic and some cities and counties in Washington are now requiring employers to utilize E-Verify in order to obtain contracts with their municipalities.  On the other hand, E-Verify itself has many critics who claim that it is fraught with errors and costs employees and employers time and money to correct.

The bill did not pass, but this issue is unlikely to go away.

Mandatory Paid Sick Safe Days

Following in the footsteps of Seattle, a Mandatory Paid Sick/Safe Days bill was introduced, which would have required employers with 5 or more employees to provide employees with paid days off to be used for illness, domestic violence-related leaves, and during public health emergency closures.

Although it didn’t pass, as the economy improves and it is perceived that businesses are more financially stable, we’re likely to see the issue again.

Altering Minimum Wage

There were many bills proposing to alter Washington’s Minimum Wage laws.  One of them, HB 2497, would have allowed for the consideration of tips in determining the minimum wage rates for restaurant employees.  A “tip credit” is common in many states, and restaurant owners, operating with lean margins, hoped for passage to put them on equal footing with other “tip credit” states.

This bill, along with bills providing for a “training wage” and those altering how the minimum wage is figured, also didn’t pass.  With the nation’s highest state minimum wage rate, we are likely to continue to see a variety of bills proposing to soften it’s affect on businesses.

Relying on L&I’s Advice

Employers are not always aware that they do not have a good faith defense if they act based on information provided to them by the Department of Labor & Industries.  HB 1532 would have allowed employers to demonstrate their reliance based on formal written guidance, interpretations, policies, rules, etc. provided to them by L&I employees.

It may seem inconceivable that our legislators would not provide protection to employers when they ask for guidance on regulations from the state’s agency that is responsible for overseeing and enforcing laws pertaining to workers’ safety, working conditions, and wages — but for some reason they didn’t.

I found some irony to this Peter Drucker quote included in L&I’s Strategic Plan, “Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it.  It is what the client or customer gets out of it.”

Discrimination Against the Unemployed

There is a lot of buzz right now about companies that discriminate against unemployed workers, stating that they will only consider working applicants for their jobs.  The proposed bill, depending on the version passed, would have made discrimination against the unemployed an unfair labor practice, equal to racial, religious and gender discrimination, amongst others.

This topic is a popular one at the federal level, so it seems likely we’ll be looking at this type of legislation again, although it was a consensus amongst HR professionals in Olympia for HR Day on the Hill that this is a “much-ado about nothing” issue.

Workplace Bullying

Another bill that mimics bills introduced around the country was the Workplace Bullying legislation.  It would provide employees legal remedy for being subjected to an “abusive work environment.”

Although no one wants to see employees subjected to bullying, many business people feel that current laws prohibiting harassment are sufficient in this area, and ultimately the legislation stalled.  But with the Workplace Bullying Institute’s corporate headquarters in Washington state, we will likely visit this issue again.

The wrap-up:

Stay tuned as the Legislature finishes their special session.  They could always send us an HR curve ball!  Barring that, there’s always next year, when some of these bills will be back in some form.  But, for now, at least as far as employment law goes, businesses got a pass this session.

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