You might think that an employment agreement gives you a safety net when working in Washington state, which is an at-will employment state. While employment contracts do provide some protection, some employers try to insert items into the agreement that Washington law does not allow. If you have questions about your employment agreement, Washington employment lawyers can provide advice and guidance.
Here are six common issues in Washington employment agreements:
Noncompete and Moonlighting Reform
Many companies require employees to sign non-competition agreements. Employment contracts also tend to restrict the right of workers to work second jobs, called “moonlighting.” The state of Washington passed sweeping reforms recently that make significant changes in the laws that apply to these two issues. The new legislation became effective on January 1, 2020. Some aspects of the reforms are retroactive. Here are some of the highlights of the changes:
- Employees who earn less than $100,000 a year, or independent contractors who make less than $250,000 a year, cannot be subject to a non-competition agreement.
- If an employee earns less than two times the applicable state minimum wage, the employer is not allowed to limit or prohibit the worker from supplementing income with a second job, independent contracting, or self-employment.
The reforms also lift many restrictions on franchisees.
In general, your employer may engage in drug testing of employees. It is illegal, however, for your boss to practice prohibited discrimination when performing drug testing. For example, regardless of what your contract says, your boss would violate the law if only people of a certain race, ethnic origin, or another protected category have to undergo drug tests.
Since Washington is an at-will employment state, your boss can fire you for no reason at all, even if your work is satisfactory. On the other hand, if you have a union collective bargaining agreement or an individual employment contract, your employer should follow the terms of your contract and any applicable personnel manuals. These documents could require your employer to follow specific procedures and only fire you for certain reasons.
No matter what your employment contract says, your boss is not allowed to engage in illegal discrimination with regard to any work-related activity, on the basis of gender, disability, race, age, or any other protected group. Work-related activity can include things like hiring and firing decisions, promotions, raises, demotions, and discipline.
Your employer must follow the Washington wage and hour laws. Your boss cannot use an employment agreement as a way to circumvent these rules. For example, a contract that provides for payment below the allowed wage or denies overtime pay for people who are not in exempt categories is unenforceable and illegal.
Family and Medical Leave
If the law requires your employer to provide family or medical leave, your boss cannot use an employment contract to get out of this responsibility. As with other issues, an employer is not allowed to rewrite Washington employment law in the form of a contract.
Waivers and Releases
The Department of Labor and Industries regulates safe workplaces in Washington. It would be illegal for an employer to require you to sign a waiver of your right to exercise your legal rights and pursue compensation and other remedies if you get hurt because of prohibited hazards at the workplace.
You do not have to challenge your employer by yourself. Contact us today. We can investigate your situation, explain your rights, and advocate on your behalf.