How does it affect workers and employers?

Get answers to common questions employers and workers ask about the 2006 Wage Payment Act.

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  • Expand/collapse What is the new law?

    The Wage Payment Act passed in 2006 allows the Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) to collect wages owed to workers through a new process. Under this process, L&I will investigate wages complaints filed by workers. L&I will work with employers and workers to resolve these wage complaints. If unsuccessful, L&I will ask the employer to pay the wages in a citation. Or L&I may determine that the employer does not owe wages. Either the employer or the worker can appeal L&I’s decision through an administrative process.

  • Expand/collapse How far back can L&I investigate unpaid wages on behalf of a worker?

    Generally, L&I can only investigate and act on unpaid wages that are owed within three years from the date the wages were due.

  • Expand/collapse Can a worker file a private lawsuit in court instead of using the L&I wage complaint process?

    Yes. A worker does not have to complain to L&I to collect unpaid wages. He or she can still go to court or hire a lawyer. A worker can go to small claims court to recover wages up to $4,000.

  • Expand/collapse What is the L&I wage complaint process?

    If a worker believes that an employer owes wages, the worker should file a signed complaint. The wage complaint form can be found online at Filing a Workplace Rights Complaint. L&I will generally complete its investigation within 60 days and determine whether the employer owes wages or not. Workers and employers both have the right to appeal L&I’s decision.

  • Expand/collapse Does a worker who files a complaint lose the right to file a private lawsuit against the employer?

    It depends on the circumstances. If L&I issues a citation to the employer that finds that the employer owes wages, L&I will send a copy of the citation to the worker. If the worker decides to file a private action, the worker must inform L&I of this decision in writing within 10 business days of receiving the citation. The worker cannot use the citation or findings of L&I in any private lawsuit.

    If the worker does nothing after receiving the citation, then the worker cannot later file a private action.

  • Expand/collapse Are there any differences between an L&I action under the new law and a private lawsuit?

    Yes. In a private lawsuit in court, a worker can ask for double the wages owed where the worker believes that the employer “willfully” failed to pay wages owed. If the worker wins, the court may also order the employer to pay attorney fees. On the other hand, a worker cannot get double damages in an L&I action where the investigation shows that the employer has willfully failed to pay wages owed. However, in such cases, L&I may require an employer to pay a penalty in addition to the wages owed. The penalty goes to L&I and not to the worker.

  • Expand/collapse How can an employer not pay a penalty when L&I determines that the employer willfully withheld wages?

    An employer is not required to pay a penalty if the employer pays all the unpaid wages and interest owed within ten business days of receiving a citation from L&I. In addition, L&I may decide at any time to waive the penalty wholly or partially if the employer pays all wages owed.

  • Expand/collapse Does an employee have any further rights after an employer pays all wages owed?

    No. Once a worker accepts payment by an employer of the wages and interest that L&I decides is owed under its citation, the worker cannot object to the amount in the citation. In addition, the worker cannot file another complaint or lawsuit against the employer for the same complaint that L&I resolved.

  • Expand/collapse Does L&I always issue a decision as a result of a worker’s complaint?

    It depends on the circumstances. If the wage dispute is resolved or settled during L&I’s investigation, L&I will not issue a decision.

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