• Washington Labor and Employment Legislative Update
  • May 6, 2010
  • Law Firm: Miller Nash LLP - Bend Office
  • The Washington legislature has finally gone home after regular and special sessions, but it leaves behind a handful of new labor and employment laws promoting state enforcement of state wage and antidiscrimination statutes and opening the door to state labor regulation of small private employers, not subject to National Labor Relations Board regulation.

    State Labor Board Gains Power to Regulate Small Employers and L&I and State Human Rights Commission Gain Expanded Administrative Power:  With the conclusion of the regular and special legislative sessions in Olympia, Washington employers can anticipate that both the state Department of Labor and Industries ("L&I") and the Washington Human Rights Commission will use new amendments to concentrate their investigations on the more flagrant wage-pay violators and reject the most frivolous discrimination charges at the outset to focus investigations on the more facially substantive charges. In addition, the state labor board will expand its jurisdiction to a few private-sector employers.

    State Labor Board Gains Power to Recognize Unions on Card Checks:  The Public Employee Relations Commission will gain the power to regulate labor relations of symphony orchestras not covered by the National Labor Relations Act (the "NLRA") on June 10 through an amendment to the state's labor laws signed by the governor. In addition to expanding the state public labor board's jurisdiction to the private sector, the law also grants the public labor board the power to recognize unions based on submitted card checks rather than giving the employer and employees the right to demand a secret ballot election, as permitted currently under federal law. This is essentially the state counterpart to the Obama administration's controversial proposed Employee Free Choice Act that has stalled in the U.S. Senate because of bipartisan opposition to the far-reaching rewriting of federal labor law. Although the amendment to Washington's labor law affects only a very few private employers, the Association of Washington Businesses warns that this amendment could be expanded by future legislatures to cover all small private Washington employers not currently subject to the NLRA.

    L&I Expands Its Power to Penalize Repeat Violators of the State Wage-Payment Laws:  Amendments to the state wage statutes give the L&I expanded authority to impose penalties on repeat "willful" violators of Washington's wage-pay statutes. The governor signed the new wagestatute amendments into law, establishing the civil penalties, tolling the statute of limitations during the pendency of an L&I investigation, and requiring L&I to provide advance written notice for an extension of the wage statute's 60-day investigation period. The law, which takes effect on June 10, also updates the wage bonding authority that L&I can impose on employers, and provides for successor liability for unpaid wages on any purchaser of a majority of an employer's business assets, if the seller/employer failed to pay its workers.

    Washington Human Rights Commission Gets Expanded Powers to Dismiss Facially Defective Discrimination Charges:  Under this new amendment to the Washington Law Against Discrimination, the Washington Human Rights Commission may enter a finding of no reasonable cause and dismiss a complaint without investigating, if the facts alleged by the claimant fail to state a valid discrimination charge. If the claimant's charge on its face states a claim, the Commission staff would still be required to proceed with a full investigation of the complaint. This statute is apparently designed to allow the Commission to get rid of the most superficial and baseless complaints to allow the state investigators to concentrate on those claims, that at least on their face, state a valid charge. This amendment takes effect on June 1.