As an employee, it’s good to read up on your rights early on. Knowing your rights can help you determine if your own or your coworkers’ rights have been violated, as well as when to talk to an employment lawyer.

While the U.S. as a whole offers certain protections for employees, Washington State offers some additional legal protections. Your rights here may be different from your rights in other states or countries you have worked in.

Below, we go over some of your rights as an employee in Washington.

Your Rights as an Employee in Washington State

Employee Rights to Payment

Washington State has a higher minimum wage than the U.S. as a whole. In 2024, the minimum wage in our state is $16.28 per hour. Some cities and counties, such as Seattle, SeaTac, Tukwila, and King County, have a higher minimum wage. Each year, the state must make a cost-of-living adjustment to the minimum wage.

Your employer cannot pay you less than the minimum wage for hourly work. They also cannot expect you to work off the clock.

Meal Period Rights

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If you work more than five hours in a shift, you are entitled to a meal period. These meal periods must meet the following requirements:

  • The meal period must be at least 30 minutes long and should start between the second and fifth hour of the shift.
  • Your meal breaks must be paid if you’re required to remain on duty, if you’re on-call, or if you are called back to work during the meal period. In these situations, you must be paid for the entire meal period. Work performed during meal breaks also counts toward calculations for paid sick leave and overtime.
  • Unpaid meal breaks are allowed if you’re completely free from work duties during the break.
  • If you work three or more hours longer than a normal work day, you must be allowed at least one additional 30-minute meal period prior to or during the overtime period.
  • If you work three or more hours beyond your scheduled shift, you must be allowed at least one additional meal period for every extra five hours worked. You must have these meal breaks within five hours of the end of the first meal period.

However, you can waive your meal break requirement if both you and your employer agree.

Rest Break Rights

Under Washington state law, you are entitled to paid rest breaks if you work a minimum number of hours. This requirement cannot be waived, although employers may file a variance application to modify the requirement if needed. Here’s what you need to know:

  • If you work more than three hours at a time, your employer must allow you a rest break.
  • In most jobs, for every four hours you work, you must have at least one 10-minute rest break. However, for some jobs, your employer is allowed to replace 10-minute rest breaks with multiple “mini” rest breaks that total at least 10 minutes over a four-hour period.
  • Your employer must schedule breaks as close to the midpoint of your work period as they can.
  • Rest breaks must count as “hours worked” when calculating paid sick leave and overtime.
  • Your employer can require you to stay at the job site during your rest breaks.

Restroom Break Rights

Your employer must give you restroom access without rigid time restrictions. In other words, you must have access during more than just scheduled breaks.

Rights For Employees Who Are Nursing

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Under federal law, most employees who are nursing have additional paid break time rights. Employees have the right to a reasonable break time in order to pump breast milk at work. The exact frequency and duration of breaks needed depend on the employee and the child. You can read more about these legal protections on the U.S. Department of Labor website.

As an employee who is nursing, your employer must also give you access to a place free from intrusions and shielded from view so you can pump breast milk. This place cannot be a bathroom. If you are teleworking, you must be free from observation by any employer-provided or required video system. You have this right for up to a year after a child is born.

However, these rights do not apply to all jobs. Employers with fewer than 50 employees are sometimes not required to offer break time and space as specified above, depending on whether it would pose an undue hardship to the employer. Also, some employees of airlines, railroads, and motorcoach carriers are exempt from these protections.

Work Schedule Rights

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For most Washington State employees, there are no work scheduling requirements. Employers have the right to change your schedule at any time, with or without notice. There is no requirement to provide weekends or holidays off. Mandatory overtime is also at your employer’s discretion.

However, there are some restrictions on when healthcare facilities can require employees to work. These requirements apply to you if you are employed by a healthcare facility, involved in direct patient care, and one of the following:

  • licensed practical nurse (LPN)
  • registered nurse (RN)
  • certified nursing assistant (CNA)
  • diagnostic radiologic technologist
  • surgical technologist
  • cardiovascular invasive specialist
  • respiratory care practitioner

State law ensures that if you work more than 12 consecutive hours on one of the jobs above, you must be given the option to have at least eight consecutive hours of uninterrupted time off.

Some cities have their own requirements around employee scheduling. For example, some retail and food services establishments in the city of Seattle are required to post hourly employees’ work schedules at least 14 days in advance. They must also respect employees’ rights to decline hours that weren’t on originally posted schedules.

Rights to a Safe Workplace

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Under federal law, you have the right to a workplace that is free of known health and safety hazards. That means you have the following rights:

  • To receive workplace health and safety training in a language you understand.
  • To refuse to work in situations where you would be exposed to a hazard.
  • To receive required safety equipment as appropriate for the job, such as gloves or a harness and lifeline for falls.
  • To be protected from toxic chemicals.
  • To work on safe machines.
  • To report injuries and illnesses and get copies of your medical records.
  • To review records of work-related illnesses and injuries.
  • To see the results of tests done to detect workplace hazards.
  • To request an inspection from the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
  • To not be retaliated against if you use the above legal rights.

Rights That Relate to Discrimination

All employees in the U.S. have additional rights under federal discrimination laws:

  • To not be harassed or discriminated against due to your race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy status, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, age, or genetic information.
  • To receive equal pay for equal work regardless of gender.
  • To receive reasonable accommodations for certain medical conditions and religious beliefs, such as leave for religious observances and the right to observe religious dress and grooming practices, as long as it does not pose an undue hardship on the employer.
  • To expect that your employer keeps any medical or genetic information you share with them confidential.
  • To report discrimination, oppose discrimination, or participate in a discrimination investigation or lawsuit without retaliation.

You can learn more about these federal employee rights on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website.

Other Employee Rights

As an employee in the U.S., you also have the right to:

  • Not be harassed in your workplace environment.
  • Maintain a degree of privacy in personal matters.
  • Take time off from work if you have a child, are ill, or need to care for a family member who is ill. While the federal government does not require this time off to be paid, Washington State has a Paid Family and Medical Leave program that allows you to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave a year under qualifying circumstances.

Proactive Measures for Employees: How to Protect Your Rights in the Workplace

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It’s hard to protect your rights if you don’t know what they are. If you’re reading the article, you’re already taking a proactive step to protect your rights. Don’t hesitate to seek advice from an employment lawyer if you have specific questions about your rights.

If you believe your rights are being violated, the first thing to do is to talk to your employer about the situation. Most employers hope to avoid legal trouble and are willing to make changes if needed to stay within the law. In most cases, an honest conversation is enough to resolve the issue.

Be sure to keep copies of any documents relevant to the workplace rights issue for your own records, including related emails, your employee handbook, or company policy statements. Take notes about the conversations you have about the situation. Be sure to include details like the date, time, place, and who took part in the conversation. However, don’t retain any documents to which you are not allowed access, as these may compromise your case.

When to Seek an Employment Lawer

If your employer does not address your concerns after you’ve spoken with them, seek legal advice as soon as possible. An employment law attorney can help you determine the strength of your claim and point out any approaching deadlines for legal action.

Bear in mind that there are different statutes of limitations for different types of employment law cases. In other words, you may not be eligible to bring a lawsuit against your employer if you wait too long.

Need an Employment Lawyer in the Everett Area?

The Anderson Hunter Law Firm in Everett, WA, has several experienced employment lawyers who can help you learn understand your rights. We have been serving the local community in Everett, Snohomish County, and other parts of the Puget Sound area for over 100 years. Contact us for legal counsel today.

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