“It’s about time”: State offers bold plan to restore overtime protections to hundreds of thousands of salaried workers
Washington state is about to take the biggest leap forward for workers rights since the fight for $15: the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries has released a plan to restore overtime protections to hundreds of thousands of workers in our state. When the plan fully phases in, workers paid less than 2.5 times the minimum wage (about $70,000/year in 2020 dollars) will get overtime pay when they work overtime hours, regardless of their job title, and regardless of whether they’re classified as salaried or hourly.
“It's about time,” said Rachel Lauter, Executive Director of Working Washington. “The state’s plan to restore overtime protections will return millions of hours a year to people in our state. Hundreds of thousands of workers will get back the time they need to care for their families, give to their communities, pursue their dreams, and just live their lives. It's another example of how Washington State is leading the nation on workers’ rights and growing our economy because of it.”
“For too long, employers have been able to ask us to do more and more work for less and less pay,” explained SEIU 775 President Sterling Harders. The result is that we don’t have enough time to spend with our families or pursue personal goals like education. This rule would be a step toward restoring the original intent of the 40 hour workweek – that our time matters.”
The state’s plan to restore overtime protections provides that:
The salary threshold for overtime exemption will rise to a level set at 2.5x the state minimum wage, or about $70,000/year. Workers paid less than that threshold will receive overtime pay when they work overtime hours, regardless of whether they’re salaried or hourly.
The increase will phase in over several years, and smaller employers will have additional time as compared to larger employers.
Because the overtime-exemption threshold will be tied to the minimum wage and our minimum wage adjusts with inflation, overtime rules will never again fall so far behind our economy as has happened since the state’s last update in the mid-1970s.
Workers across the state have been calling for the state to restore overtime protections.
“Businesses can never pay you what your time is worth — your time is invaluable. But they don’t even try,” said Sidney Kenney, who works a minimum 55 hours a week in his $40,000/year salaried position in Tumwater. ”I don’t want the money, I want the time.”
"After 9 months working 60 - 90 hours a week, my body completely rebelled and I had a full-on nervous breakdown," explained Heather McGraine, who worked as a chef/kitchen manager in Seattle for a salary of $29,000/year. "But that it was 4 years at three different jobs with similar expectations that led up to it. One of them even said I had to be on call 24/7 and within 30 minutes of work at all times."
“When my employer classified me as a salaried overtime-exempt worker, my pay worked out to less than the minimum wage," said Lorraine Marie, a journalist in Colville. "There certainly was nothing prestigious about that kind of salaried work.”
“This change means that moms and dads will be able to at least cover their expenses for after-hours childcare when they work overtime,” explained Elizabeth Madrigal, an HR consultant in Ridgefield. “It will also demonstrate for employers that asking your people to sacrifice their family time has a shared cost, not just one the employee pays.”
The state will hold public hearings on their plan this summer in Tumwater, Seattle, Bellingham, Ellensburg, Kennewick, and Spokane, and accept written comments through September. The rule will be finalized by the end of year.
How it works now: Washington State’s current outdated rules give companies an all-too-simple loophole to get out of paying overtime, no matter how many hours they make someone work. A company simply has to call someone “exempt” and pay them more than the salary threshold for overtime exemption — only about $24,000/year — and they can wriggle out of paying them anything extra for the extra hours. Technically there are rules about what kind of jobs can be exempt, but usually your employer is the one who tells you whether you get overtime or not as long as they pay you more than the threshold. If you think they’re wrong, you maybe could file a claim over that classification. But unless you have a lawyer on retainer, in the day to day reality of the workplace, your employer gets to decide.
It hasn’t always been this way: As recently as the mid 1970s (when the rules were last updated), more than 60% of salaried workers got time and a half pay for overtime when they worked additional hours over 40. Now less than 10% do — and it’s not because people are working less.
Why it matters: Time is money, and employers are taking both. Salaried workers are clocking an average of 49 hours a week — some as many as 60 or more — and few get paid an extra dime for the extra hours over 40.
Who will be impacted: It is estimated that as many as 400,000 people in the state will gain new or strengthened overtime protections as a result of the state’s plan. These people work in a variety of underpaid and overworked salaried positions, including in the food and retail industries, in office and clerical jobs, at nonprofits, and in other fields.
How employers can adjust: Employers will have a number of options as the plan phases in: they can reduce work hours, raise salaries above the threshold, pay overtime rates when employees work overtime hours, or do a combination of the three. In the best case, employers will incur $0 in additional costs, and workers will simply be allowed to go home at the end of the workweek. The only reason this change would have a large cost is if an employer relies on a very large number of very low-paid workers to work very long hours.