News & Articles

Beginning April 1, 2016, Employees May Bring Private Lawsuits for Violation of Seattle Labor Laws

Published on March 25, 2016

In December 2015, the City of Seattle enacted a new law that significantly increases the penalties to employers for violating four Seattle labor ordinances: Paid Sick & Safe Time, Fair Chance Employment (“Ban the Box”), Minimum Wage, and Wage Theft.  One of the new law’s most drastic changes will allow employees to bring private lawsuits against employers for alleged violations of the Paid Sick & Safe Time, Minimum Wage, and Wage Theft ordinances. The private cause of action goes into effect April 1, 2016, for employers with 50 or more employees, and April 1, 2017, for employers with fewer than 50 employees. If the employee prevails in such a lawsuit, the court may award double the amount of unpaid wages, attorney fees, and a civil penalty up to $5,000.

Among the new law’s other significant changes, it is now much easier for an employee to establish retaliation under any of the four Seattle labor ordinances. If an employer takes adverse action against an employee within 90 days of the employee’s exercise of a right protected by one of the ordinances, the employer is presumed to have retaliated unless it shows by clear and convincing evidence that it took the action for another reason. For example, if an employee complains that he did not get adequate paid sick leave and the employer discharges the employee within 90 days, the employer is presumed to have retaliated unless it can prove by clear and convincing evidence that another reason motivated the discharge.

Employers should review their compliance with Seattle’s labor ordinances in light of the new law’s increased remedies and more difficult standards of proof. Whenever adverse action is necessary, employers should thoroughly document the performance issues or business needs that motivated the action. Employers should use particular caution and consider seeking legal advice before taking adverse action against an employee who has exercised a right under the Seattle labor ordinances within the last 90 days.

The City of Seattle’s summary of changes created by the December 2015 law is available here. If you have questions, please feel free to contact any member of the Employment Rights, Benefits and Labor Group at Ryan Swanson Law.

Shannon Lawless is an attorney in Ryan, Swanson & Cleveland, PLLC’s Employment Rights, Benefits and Labor Group and can be reached at 206.654.2211 or [email protected]

This message has been created by the Employment Rights, Benefits & Labor Group at Ryan, Swanson & Cleveland, PLLC to advise of recent developments in the law. Because each situation is different, this information is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice on any specific facts and circumstances. Ryan, Swanson & Cleveland, PLLC is a full-service law firm located in Seattle, Washington.

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