Wage Theft Ordinance

Seattle's Wage Theft Ordinance went into effect on April 1, 2015.

The Office of Labor Standards (OLS) can investigate workers’ complaints of nonpayment of wages and tips. The Administrative Wage Theft Ordinance creates an administrative process for addressing wage theft complaints but does not replace criminal investigations. It remains a crime to withhold payment of wages and tips owed to employees under Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) 14.20.

The ordinance requires employers to:

  • Provide written notice to employees at time of hire or change of employment, containing the employer’s name, physical address and contact information, pay rate, pay basis, regular pay day and tip policies.
  • Pay all wages and tips owed to employees on a regular pay day.
  • Provide written notice to employees each time wages and tips are paid detailing employees’ gross wages and tips, rate of pay, pay basis and all deductions.
  • Keep payroll records for no less than 3 years for employees covered under the ordinance.
  • Provide written notice (e.g. poster) to employees that they are entitled to their rights under this ordinance.
  • Provide notice in English, Spanish and other languages commonly spoken at a given work site. OLS will provide notice templates and a workplace poster in English, Spanish and other languages on this web site.

Many of these requirements already exist under Washington State’s minimum wage and wage payment laws.

Several requirements are new under Seattle’s wage theft ordinance SMC 14.20:

  • Written notice to employees of pay rate and tip policies at time of hire or change of employment.
  • Requirement to pay wages and tips.
  • Written notice of employees’ tips each pay day.
  • Written notice to employees of their rights to wage and tip compensation.

Wage Theft Enforcement

The City of Seattle Office of Labor Standards will investigate charges alleging violations of Seattle’s Wage Theft Ordinance.

  • Charges can be filed up to three years after an alleged violation.
  • Remedies for ordinance violations include payment of unpaid wages and tips plus accrued interest and civil penalties. If an employer fails to promptly comply with the remedy defined in a Director’s order, the City may refuse to issue, refuse to renew or revoke a business license. Any successor to the business also becomes liable for the full amount of the Director’s order, including payment of the unpaid wages and tips and civil penalties.
  • In the case of possible criminal wage theft (SMC 12A.08.060), the Director also can refer the complaint to the Seattle Police Department for further investigation or the City Attorney’s Office for prosecution.

Why is Seattle taking this step?

Research shows that wage theft is a significant problem around the country. One 2008 study found that more than two-thirds of workers surveyed in low-wage industries experienced at least one pay-related violation in the previous work week amounting to an average loss of 15% of weekly earnings.

Applying this research to Seattle's estimated 102,000 workers making less than $15 an hour indicates that a significant number of workers may regularly experience wage theft in our city.

Seattle City Council unanimously passed Ordinance 123596 criminalizing wage theft in 2011, but very few Seattle workers have filed wage theft complaints with the Seattle Police Department. It has been argued that the high standard of proof for establishing criminal wage theft may deter workers from reporting these types of violations.

People affected by wage theft are among the most vulnerable in our city, often lacking access to sufficient resources and time to appeal their unpaid wages. Encouraging greater compliance with wage and tip compensation benefits all workers. This effort also helps create a level-playing field to support businesses by rooting out unscrupulous actors that are able to undercut prices by avoiding paying their workers fair compensation.

Publications & Resources

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Notice of Employment

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Rules and Ordinances

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The Office of Labor Standards has jurisdiction within Seattle city limits.

If your situation does not qualify for investigation by us, we will refer you to another agency for help.

Map showing Seattle city boundaries

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