What's Your Unpaid Wage Claim Worth in Washington?

Learn how to calculate what you're owed in unpaid wages and penalties in Washington.

Has your employer failed to pay you minimum wage or overtime or failed to give you meal breaks? If so, you may be able to recover unpaid wages and other compensation from your employer. Below, we explain common wage violations in Washington, how to calculate your unpaid wages, and how to pursue your wage claim.

Unpaid Minimum Wage

Washington's minimum wage is significantly higher than the current federal minimum wage of $7.25, so employees are entitled to the state rate. If you didn’t receive the minimum wage, you can collect unpaid wages from your employer. To calculate the amount due, take the difference between your hourly rate and the minimum wage. Then, multiply that amount by the number of hours worked. For example, if your employer paid you $2 less than the minimum wage for 80 hours of work, you would be entitled to an extra $160.

Unpaid Overtime

Consistent with federal law, Washington employers must pay employees time-and-a-half when they work more than 40 hours in a work week. (Exempt employees are not entitled to overtime pay. To learn more, see our article on which employees are exempt from overtime.)

If you didn’t receive the overtime rate, you can collect 50% of your regular rate per hour. For example, suppose you worked 45 hours during the week but only received your regular hourly rate of $14 per hour (for a total of $630). The last five of your hours should have been paid at the overtime rate of $21 per hour. So you should receive the difference of $7 per hour ($21 - $14) for five hours, for a total of $35 extra per week.

Meal and Rest Breaks

Under Washington law, employers must provide employees with a 30-minute unpaid meal break (when working more than five hours) and a ten-minute paid rest break for every four hours worked. Under federal law, any breaks of 20 minutes or less must be paid. And, if you’re required to do any work during a break—even sitting at your desk to wait for a phone call or delivery—you must be paid for that time.

To calculate your unpaid wages, add up:

  • any breaks of more than 20 minutes that you were required to work through, and
  • any breaks of 20 minutes or less, whether you worked through them or not.

This time counts are hours worked, for which you must be paid. If the additional time results in overtime, you must be compensated at your overtime rate.

Other Common Wage Violations in Washington

Washington employers must also follow several other wage and hour requirements under federal and state law. Here are some other common wage violations by employers:

  • failing to pay you for work performed before you clock in or after you clock out
  • failure to pay earned bonuses or commissions
  • failure to provide paid sick leave required by state law
  • failure to provide a final paycheck on time, and
  • unauthorized deductions from wages, such as for the cost of uniforms or equipment, for cash shortages, or for property damage.

Additional Compensation for Wage Violations in Washington

In Washington, employees with minimum wage or overtime claims can collect an additional sum called “liquidated damages.” Liquidated damages are intended to compensate you for the delay in payment of your wages. You can collect 100% of your unpaid wages as liquidated damages. For example, if you are owed $1,000 in unpaid minimum wage and overtime, you can collect another $1,000, for a total of $2,000. If you win your case, you may also be able to collect reasonable attorneys’ fees and legal costs.

Filing a Claim for Unpaid Wages in Washington

The quickest and easiest way to recover unpaid wages is typically to file a wage claim with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (DLI). DLI handles various wage violations, including minimum wage violations, overtime violations, meal and rest break violations, final paycheck violations, and more. DLI will investigate your claim, make a decision, and help you recover any wages that are owed.

To start your claim, you should complete an online Workplace Rights Complaint at DLI’s website. Under Washington law, you have three years to pursue your wage claim violation. Under federal law, you typically have two years (or three years, if you can prove the employer’s violation was willful). However, it’s best to file your claim as soon as possible to ensure that you have access to witnesses and relevant evidence.

Alternatively, you may file a lawsuit in court to collect your unpaid wages. Filing in court is a much more complicated process though, so you should consider hiring an employment lawyer. This option would make sense if you are claiming a large amount in unpaid wages. You can also hire a lawyer to represent you before DLI, although it is not a requirement. If you’re not sure which is the best route for you, consult with a lawyer first.

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