Frequently Asked Questions
Warning! The answers on this page are generalizations and may have exceptions. These answers are not legal advice based on your personal situation. You should consult with a lawyer to obtain a personal legal evaluation of your situation.
Answer: All Washington employees are “at-will” employees unless they have an employment contract, collective bargaining agreement, or some other agreement with their employer that says otherwise. “At-will” means that the employer or the employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time, for any lawful reason or for no reason at all.
Answer: Both federal and state law forbid employers from firing an employee for certain reasons. A “reason” is something that was a substantial factor motivating the employer’s decision to fire the employee. Some common unlawful motivations for firing an employee are:
- firing an employee because of their age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, race, religion, creed, color, national origin, citizenship or immigration status, or veteran or military status,
- firing an employee because they have a physical, mental or sensory disability or because they are pregnant,
- firing an employee because they reported unlawful discrimination or opposed unlawful discrimination,
- firing an employee because they participated in an investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or Washington State Human Rights Commission,
- firing an employee because they filed a claim for worker’s compensation benefits,
- firing an employee because they requested or took a leave of absence under the federal Family & Medical Leave Act, Washington Paid Sick Leave Act, or Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave Act
- firing an employee because they refused to break the law,
- firing an employee because they performed a public duty or obligation (like jury service)),
- firing an employee because they exercised a legal right or privilege (like filling a wage complaint with L&I), and
- firing an employee because they reported employer misconduct i.e. whistle-blowing.
Answer: If you are employed “at-will” (see above), your employer can legally fire you for no reason. However, just because your employer won’t tell you the reason for firing you, that doesn’t mean the employer didn’t actually have one or more reasons. Those secret reasons cannot be the result of an unlawful motivation. For more information about unlawful motivations, read the answer to question number two.
Answer: This question is similar to the last question: it is not illegal for an employer simply to tell you a false reason for firing you. However, just because your employer won’t tell you the true reason for firing you, that true reason cannot be an unlawful motivation. For more information about unlawful motivations, read the answer to question number two.
Answer: Unfortunately, harassment and hostile work environment are not illegal by themselves. To be illegal, harassment and hostile work environment must be motivated by an unlawful motivation. Some common unlawful motivations include:
- harassing an employee because of their age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, race, religion, creed, color, national origin, citizenship or immigration status, or veteran or military status,
- harassing an employee because they have a physical, mental or sensory disability or because they are pregnant, and
- harassing an employee because they opposed unlawful discrimination.
Answer: The first step you should take is speak with your supervisor or manager. If that doesn’t work, speak with someone in the Human Resources Department if your employer has one. If the harasser is your supervisor, skip that step! If this doesn’t fix the problem, think about applying for anti-harassment protection order from a local court. You can find instructions and forms at this website. If a judge grants your petition, the harasser may be prohibited from being at your place of employment.
Answer: Yes, just because you are paid a salary does not mean that you are exempt from receiving overtime compensation. There some additional requirements to be overtime exempt as a salary employee. While there are some additional nuances, you may still need to be paid overtime if your primary job duty is not one of the following:
- management of the company or a substantial part of the company,
- office work or other non-manual work that directly relates to management or general business operations,
- using advanced scientific or other knowledge (e.g., medical doctor, lawyer, etc.),
- require invention, imagination, originality, or talent (e.g. artist), or
- computer system analyst, computer programmer, software engineer, or information technology professional.
Answer: Yes, some of those limitations include:
- Non-compete agreements do not normally apply to employees who make less than $100,000 per year.
- Non-compete agreements cannot usually last more than 18 months.
- Non-compete agreements do not usually apply if you were laid off.
- Non-compete agreements must be limited to what is necessary to protect your employer’s business.