January 2015 Bar Bulletin
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January 2015 Bar Bulletin

Wake Up Seattle: Employees' Rights Are Our Business Now

By Deirdre Glynn Levin


The King County Bar Association Business Law Section is pleased to present a panel discussion on "Enforcement and Other Issues Related to Seattle's Minimum Wage Ordinance" on Wednesday, January 28 from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the KCBA offices at 1200 Fifth Avenue, Suite 700 in downtown Seattle.

The three panelists will be Karina Bull, policy analyst with the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR); Martin Garfinkel, a labor and employment law attorney with Schroeter, Goldmark & Bender; and Kara Craig, staff counsel with Archbright, formerly known as Washington Employers, Inc.

Even though its implementation date is April 1, less than four months from now, there is much to learn from the panel about the new Minimum Wage Ordinance (MWO). The MWO sets minimum wage and compensation rates for employees performing work in Seattle and will be administered by the Office of Labor Standards, a new division within SOCR.1

The new program will be phased in over a period of years. For example, minimum wages for Schedule 1 employers, i.e., those with more than 500 employers in the U.S. and that do not provide medical benefits, will gradually reach $15 an hour over the course of three years, beginning with an $11 minimum wage on April 1.

While certain aspects of the ordinance are clear, the panel will be asked to address some of the more complicated questions. Because minimum wage is typically regulated on the state and federal levels, the complexities in enforcement partially arise from the fact that the MWO regulates employers and employees at the citywide level.

Since the number of employees is one of the key criteria, how will the law apply to separate, but related, businesses? Whether an employer is covered will apparently be determined by factors such as the business's degree of interrelation, sharing common management, centralized control of labor relations, and degree of common ownership or financial control.

Another of the more controversial aspects that the panel will address is the remedy and penalty section. While the City has committed to an initial year of outreach and education, after this "grace" period penalties and remedies will be scaled up based on the number of an employer's violations. Enforcement mechanisms may include: (1) an advisory letter, whereby SOCR asks the employer to contact it to resolve the issue within 30 days; (2) an employee charge where the employee is identified and a formal investigation is commenced; and (3) a director's charge (where the employee's name is confidential), which triggers a company-wide investigation.

More information about implementation of the ordinance and the rules process can be found on the SOCR website: http://www.seattle.gov/civilrights/minimumwage.htm. More information on the City's perspective on the history of the MWO can be found at the Mayor's Office website: http://murray.seattle.gov/minimumwage/#sthash.4lmPkqc3.dLbsaA5O.dpbs. The notice and public comment period on the rules begins this month and is expected to be completed in February or March.

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