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Employment Laws in Washington

Filed under Hiring Workers. Fact checked on June 7, 2013.

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Employers in Washington must conform to these state rules relating to the employment relationship.

Employee does not include any individual:

  • employed by his or her parents, spouse or child
  • in the domestic service of any person.

Employer includes any person acting in the interest of an employer, directly or indirectly, who has eight or more employees, but does not include any religious or sectarian nonprofit organization.

Prohibited Employment Discrimination

Unless based on a bona fide occupational qualification, an employer may not discriminate in its hiring or employment practices on the basis of:

  • age (40 or older)
  • sex
  • marital status
  • race
  • creed
  • color
  • national origin
  • sexual orientation
  • gender identity
  • disability
  • the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability
  • results of an HIV test
  • a veteran's honorable discharge
  • military status

Hepatitis C. Employers are prohibited from requiring a hepatitis C test as a condition of employment. Discrimination in employment on the basis of the results of a hepatitis C test is also prohibited. If there is a bona fide occupational qualification relating to the job in question, neither prohibition applies.

Genetic testing. Employers are prohibited from requiring that an employee or a prospective employee submit genetic information or submit to screening for genetic information as a condition of employment or continued employment.

Broadcasting industry agreements not to compete. If an employee of a broadcasting industry employer, other than a sales or management employee, subject to an employee agreement not to compete is terminated without just cause or laid off by action of the employer, the agreement not to compete is void and unenforceable.

The law does not restrict the right of an employer to protect trade secrets or proprietary information by lawful means in equity or under applicable law. In addition, the law does not terminate, or in any way modify, any rights or liabilities resulting from an employee's agreement not to compete that was entered into before December 31, 2005.

Marty Smith law. Retaliation may not be taken against a mental health professional or crisis intervention worker who is responding to a private home or other private location to stabilize or treat a person in crisis, or to evaluate a person for potential detention, who refuses to go alone. The worker is entitled to have a trained individual accompany the worker.

State domestic partnership registry. Individuals may enter into a state domestic partnership if they meet established criteria and are entitled to certain benefits that are granted to married individuals.

The terms spouse, marriage, marital, husband, wife, widow, widower, next of kin, and family generally, are interpreted as applying equally to state registered domestic partnerships or individuals in state registered domestic partnerships, as well as to marital relationships and married persons. Gender specific terms such as husband and wife used in any statute, rule, or other law are construed as gender neutral and applicable to individuals in state registered domestic partnerships.

Same-sex marriage. Legislation signed into law on February 13, 2012, legalizes same-sex marriage in Washington, effective June 7, 2012.

Nursing mothers. It is a discriminatory practice for any person or the person's agent or employee to commit an act which directly or indirectly results in any distinction, restriction, or discrimination, or the requiring of any person to pay a larger sum than the uniform rates charged to other persons, or the refusing or withholding from any person the admission, patronage, custom, presence, frequenting, dwelling, staying, or lodging in any place of public resort, on the basis of a breastfeeding mother.

Crime victims leave. Employers are required to grant leave to certain employees who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

Voluntary veterans' employment preference. Employers may exercise a voluntary veterans' preference in employment to honorably discharged soldiers, sailors, and marines who are veterans of any war of the United States, or of any military campaign for which a campaign ribbon has been awarded, and their widows and widowers. Spouses of honorably discharged veterans who have a service connected permanent and total disability may also be preferred for employment.

Guide and service animals. Food establishments are required to allow persons with disabilities to bring their trained dog guides or service animals onto the business premises.

Social media privacy. Effective July 28, 2013, employers are prohibited from requiring employees or prospective employees to submit passwords or other related account information in order to gain access to an individual’s personal social networking website account or profile.

In addition, employees or applicants may not be compelled to add a person, including the employer, to the list of contacts associated with the individual’s personal social networking account, and the employer may not request, require or coerce the employee or applicant to alter the settings on his or her personal social networking account that affect a third party’s ability to view contents of the account.

If certain conditions are met, employers may seek content, but not log-in information, from the employee’s personal social networking accounts. The employer may request certain content if:

  • the employer is requesting or requiring the content to make a factual determination while conducting an investigation
  • the employer undertakes the investigation in response to information about the employee’s activity on his personal account
  • the purpose of the investigation is to ensure compliance with applicable law or prohibitions against work-related employee misconduct, or to investigate an allegation of unauthorized transfer of an employer’s proprietary or confidential information

Recordkeeping Requirements

Employers may make and keep records of persons after they are employed, unless the records are used for the purpose of discrimination. To prevent improper use, records of an employee's protected status must be maintained in a manner accessible only on a need-to-know basis.

Posting Requirements

Posters that excerpt Washington's prohibited discriminatory employment practices are available from the Washington State Human Rights Commission..

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