Employee Handbook

5 Significant Changes in Washington Employment Law in 2019

by | October 29, 2019

Did you know that there are at least 5 new changes that occurred in 2019 that impact Washington employers, their employee handbooks and policies?

With these important changes, there’s no doubt that your Employee Handbook as well as policies and practices around hiring, leave, and minimum wage and overtime need review and updating. 

We have summarized these changes below to help you make a clear plan as your business heads into 2020. We invite you to learn more about these changes and what they mean for your business at our Year in Review FOCUS webinar on December 18th. You can register for the FOCUS here.

Paid Family & Medical Leave Act (PFMLA)

PFLMA goes into effect on January 1, 2020 and the Employment Security Department is busy completing all the rule-making. The PFMLA law was originally passed in 2018, and employers have been collecting premiums since January 1, 2019.

What you should do: As the rule-making approaches completion, your company should:

  • review existing policies.
  • determine what policies they want to put in place.
  • how paid family and medical leave interacts with other types of employee leave, including FMLA (if applicable), Seattle Sick and Safe, and other PTO.

Join us on November 13th for our virtual FOCUS to discuss this topic in more depth.

Salary History Ban & Pay Range Disclosure Requirements

As of July 28, 2019, employers in Washington State are prohibited from collecting or seeking the wage or salary history of an applicant for employment. Employers must also disclose the minimum wage or salary for the position upon request from an applicant.

What you should do: Salary history questions can creep into hiring practices in multiple places, so your company should:

  • be sure to review employment applications, job descriptions, and any other hiring paperwork
  • train all personnel involved in hiring on the new laws to ensure company-wide compliance.

To learn more about the salary history ban and pay disclosure requirements, check out our blog post here.

Restrictions on Non-Competes for Employees & Independent Contractors

As of January 1, 2020, employers will no longer be allowed to put in place or enforce non-compete agreements with employees earning less than $100,000 per year or independent contractors earning less than $250,000 per year. Additionally, any non-compete agreements longer than 18 months in duration after the termination of employment are presumed unreasonable.

What you should do:

  • Review your standard form agreements and employee handbooks to confirm whether the non-compete provisions are compliant
  • Revise non-compliant agreements and employee handbooks to enhance confidentiality and non-solicitation restrictions.

You can find more information on the new non-compete restrictions here.

Obesity Held to be a Protected Class

Most employers are aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but many may not be familiar with the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD). WLAD provides broader protection than the ADA. This year, the Washington Supreme Court held in Taylor v. Burlington Northern Railroad Holdings, Inc. that obesity qualifies as an impairment under WLAD and does not have to be caused by a separate disorder or condition in order to be a protected class under WLAD.

What you should do: Train your staff on the new WLAD qualifications.

Changes to Federal Minimum Wage & Overtime Exemption Thresholds

The US Department of Labor recently released the final rule amending the existing minimum wage and overtime thresholds for “executive, administrative, and professional” (EAP) employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). On January 1, 2020, the “standard salary level” threshold will increase from the existing $455/week ($23,660/year) to the new threshold of $679/week ($35,308/year). The threshold for HCE employees will increase from $100,000/year to $107,432/year.

What you should do:

  • Review employee pay data.
  • determine what impact this new rule will have on your employee base and financials.
  • determine whether to reclassify affected employees as non-exempt and eligible for overtime pay or to raise salaries.
  • train any reclassified employees on company overtime policies and methods of tracking overtime.
  • notify hiring managers and HR personnel of the new rules.

View our blog post on this here to learn more about the new Federal Overtime Rule.

*Bonus Proposed Changes to Washington State Minimum Wage & Overtime Thresholds for EAP Employees

Washington has also proposed a new draft overtime rule, which would increase the “exempt” threshold for EAP employees by more than 3x the existing thresholds over the next 6 years. Under the proposed rule, the minimum required salary level for exempt employees would increase from $455/week to $675/week for small employers (1-50 employees) and $945/week for large employers (51+ employees).

The proposed schedule would increase these thresholds annually, until 2026, when the threshold for all employers will be $1536/week, or 2.5x the minimum wage. The rule is currently in the rule-making process. If passed, the proposed changes would most likely take effect on July 1, 2020.


We have the latest updates on Washington State Minimum Wage & Overtime Threshold changes here.

Enlist Help

Given all of these changes, Washington employers are likely to need support in reviewing employee handbooks and other existing policies and implementing new or revised policies by or before January 1, 2020. We are here to help! Call or email us to find to get your questions answered and see about getting your documents reviewed and updated.