All posts by Terra Joy

Hiring in Washington State: Three Critical Things to Know

If you are a small business owner, you know hiring employees is an important piece of the puzzle. But did you know that laws exist governing the hiring process that make it illegal to ask certain questions to potential candidates? It’s important to educate yourself about these laws to be sure you are complying, keeping both you and your potential candidates protected. Below are some relevant laws in Washington state.

#1 – Employers are prohibited from discriminating against applicants with criminal backgrounds. This means you are not allowed to include any questions on your application (nor can you inquire verbally) about criminal history until after you have determined that the applicant is otherwise qualified for the position. The point of this is to give the opportunity for the applicant to prove they are qualified before ruling them out as a candidate solely based on their criminal background. You can read this law in detail here. (Note that this links to a .pdf and your browser may require that you verify it as a trustworthy source)

#2 – Recently, Governor Jay Inslee signed the Washington Equal Pay and Opportunities Act. This new law prohibits employers from seeking applicant salary history from current or former employers. Also, employers are required to set the minimum pay scale for an open position prior to posting the position. Statistics show a woman gets paid less than a man to perform the same job, and this law is aimed at removing this discrepancy.  You can read more about this law here.

#3 – Employers are prohibited from discriminating against applicants based on their race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. In other words, don’t ask about the applicant’s 23andme results or anything remotely close to that in an interview! Here is a good article that gives examples of illegal questions and offers tips to handle these subjects if brought up by the interviewer. These discrimination laws are enforced by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You can read more about these laws in detail here.

Whether you are a small business owner or an individual looking for a job, we recommend taking some time to educate yourself on these laws. While these laws can make the hiring process more complex, we at Joy Accounting are excited to base in a state that is putting guardrails in place to protect individuals from unfair hiring practices. We look forward to the day that discrimination in hiring practices can be done away with so that every decision is truly based on merit, and not on societal bias.   

What the small business owner needs to know about Rest Breaks and Meal Periods

Owning a small business with employees is exciting, but also overwhelming. Having employees means keeping track of, and following, specific state regulations. As a small business owner, it’s likely that you don’t have dedicated HR staff; that means being aware of a lot of aspects of employment law that you aren’t an expert in.

One part of these regulations is related to providing employees rest breaks and meal periods during their shifts. It’s important to be sure you are in compliance with these requirements for several reasons, as follows:

  • To avoid possible investigations, fines, or worse
  • To allow employees time to take care of their needs during the scheduled rest/meal periods
  • To foster an environment where employees feel valued, which boosts moral

In Washington state, the Department of Labor & Industries regulates these requirements. Here are the key points of the requirements:

Rest Breaks:

  • Employees must be allowed a paid rest break of at least 10 minutes for every 4 hours worked
  • The rest break must be allowed no later than the end of the third hour of the shift

Meal Periods:

  • If more than 5 hours are worked in a shift, employees must be allowed a 30-minute meal period between the 2nd-5th hours of the shift
  • Employees may give up their meal period, if the employer agrees. L&I encourages business owners get a written statement from employees who want to give up their meal periods.

In addition to meeting the requirements of the law, you want to provide your employees with a great place to work, as this leads to more productivity and general camaraderie on your team. Meeting (and sometimes exceeding) requirements shows your employees that you are invested in them, and you are not trying to ‘nickel-and-dime’ them to get the highest possible daily work yield. You care about your team – and a big part of that is being up-to-speed on regulations such as these.

If you have any questions about this or other L&I regulations, please contact our team at terra@joyaccounting.com.

For more information on rest & meal requirements in Washington state, go to: https://www.lni.wa.gov/WorkplaceRights/Wages/HoursBreaks/Breaks/default.asp