The minimum wage in Washington is set to increase to $7.93 in 2007–the highest rate in the U.S. By contrast, the federal minimum wage is $5.15 (and has been unchanged since 1997). (States are free to require an increase in the minimum wage beyond the “floor” set by federal law.) Employees also have unique protections under Washington law when it comes to unpaid wages.
Washington has a statute which permits employees to recover damages and attorneys’ fees for unpaid wages. Under RCW 49.52.050, “Any employer or officer, vice principal or agent of any employer, whether said employer be in private business or an elected public official, who…Wilfully and with intent to deprive the employee of any part of his wages, shall pay any employee a lower wage than the wage such employer is obligated to pay such employee by any statute, ordinance, or contract” is guilty of a misdemeanor.
In turn, RCW 49.52.070 provides that “Any employer and any officer, vice principal or agent of any employer who shall violate any of the provisions of subdivisions (1) and (2) of RCW 49.52.050 shall be liable in a civil action by the aggrieved employee or his assignee to judgment for twice the amount of the wages unlawfully rebated or withheld by way of exemplary damages, together with costs of suit and a reasonable sum for attorney’s fees: PROVIDED, HOWEVER, That the benefits of this section shall not be available to any employee who has knowingly submitted to such violations.”
Washington case law has carved out several exceptions to the double damages statute’s applicability; for example, where there is a “bona fide dispute” about the amount of wages owed. Nevertheless, this statute continues to provide protection to a number of employees who aren’t paid on time.
Read more: Pratik Joshi; Tri-City Herald