Employers must pay employees for all work performed. Employers must pay employees an agreed-upon wage on a regular, scheduled payday – and pay them at least once per month. Employers have many options to pay employees – by check, cash, direct deposit, or even pre-paid payroll or debit cards, as long as there is no cost to the employee to access their wages.

Employees who do not receive all wages due for work performed may file a Workplace Rights Complaint.

Pay Requirements


Employees must be paid for all work performed at the rate agreed upon with their employer. This rate can be an hourly wage, salary, flat rate, piece rate, commission, etc. or a combination.

When an employee is paid hourly, they must be paid for all hours worked. “Hours worked” is defined as, “all hours during which the employee is authorized or required, known or reasonably believed by the employer to be on the premises or at a prescribed workplace.”

This can include:

  • Travel time,
  • Required training and meeting time,
  • Wait time,
  • On-call time, and
  • Time for putting on and taking off uniforms or personal protective equipment (PPE).

In some cases, meal periods may also be considered hours worked.

Employees who work “unauthorized” hours or overtime without the employer’s permission must be paid for their hours worked, though they can be subject to discipline for doing so. Employees cannot volunteer to work for for-profit companies without pay. Nor can they choose, or be required by their employer, to work “off the clock.”

Regardless of how an employee is paid, their rate of pay must be at least the current state minimum wage. And most employees working more than 40 hours per week must be paid overtime.

Agreed wage

Employees and employers may come to agreements related to payment that are more favorable than state law. These arrangements are considered an “agreed wage.” An agreed wage can include many different types of pay, including normal hourly rates of pay or premium rates of pay for certain tasks or shifts. This can include shift differentials, hazard pay, double time on holidays, on-call pay, etc. The agreed wage must be included in any overtime calculation when overtime-eligible employees work more than 40 hours per week.

Pay raises

Employers are not required to give employees pay raises, unless the employee is paid minimum wage and the minimum wage is increased. Washington’s minimum wage is $16.28 as of Jan. 1, 2024. The minimum wage is adjusted each year for inflation.


Employers are required to pay employees at least once per month on a regular, scheduled payday. An employer may require employees to sign up for direct deposit, as long as this does not impose a cost on the employee. Employers may also offer to pay employees using debit or prepaid payroll cards. If there are fees for using these cards, the employer must provide an alternative that allows employees to access their wages without any fees or costs associated when withdrawing funds.

Non-sufficient funds (NSF)

If a paycheck “bounces” or is denied for non-sufficient funds, an employee may file a workers’ rights complaint. L&I has the authority to recover bank fees or charges associated with a bad check if the attempt to cash the check occurred within 30 days of issue. If an employer regularly issues bad checks, this may be a matter for law enforcement.

Final paychecks

If an employee quits or is fired, their final paycheck must be paid on or before the next regularly scheduled payday. Employers cannot withhold a final paycheck if the employee does not turn in keys, uniforms, tools, equipment, etc. There are specific rules for deductions taken from a final paycheck.

Severance, personal holidays, and vacation time are voluntary benefits. Employers can choose to pay out these benefits on a final paycheck. If you believe you are owed any of these agreed-upon benefits, you can contact an attorney or file in small claims court.

Paid sick leave balances have separate requirements that employers must follow.

Show-Up Pay, On-Call Pay, Per Diem, and Expense Reimbursements

Paying employees beyond their hours worked is generally not required unless there is a specific agreement between the employee and employer or if it is required by a collective bargaining agreement. State law does not typically require the following types of payment:

Show-up pay

Employers are not required to pay employees if they report for their shift and told they are not needed to work. Only actual hours worked must be paid.

On-call pay

Employers can require an employee to be “on-call” and available to work on an emergency or as-needed basis. Employers are generally not required to pay employees who are “on-call,” unless the employee is actually called to duty. However, if an employer places significant restrictions on how an employee spends their time while on-call, this time may need to be compensated as hours worked.

If an on-call employee is called to duty, the time they spend addressing the workplace issue is considered hours worked. Employers can offer “on-call pay” if it is agreed upon by the employee or required by a collective bargaining agreement. On-call wages paid to employees who are not called to duty are not subject to minimum wage laws or overtime and are not considered “hours worked.” If an employee is called back to duty, their regular or agreed-upon wage (e.g., on-call premiums, shift differentials, etc.) applies for all hours worked, including overtime.

Per diem or other expense reimbursement

Reimbursement or fixed rates paid for meals and lodging while traveling, often called per-diem, is not required by state law. Additionally, reimbursements for fuel, parking fees, tolls, or other purchases made by the employee for the business are benefits given by the business at its own discretion.

Note: Unreimbursed expenses paid by an employee may be tax deductible – contact a tax adviser for more information.