Under certain circumstances, employers can apply for permission to pay employees less than the state minimum wage. L&I may issue a certificate allowing a subminimum wage if an employer meets the specific requirements. Employers may not pay a subminimum wage unless it has been approved by L&I.
Note: If an employer wishes to pay workers less than the federal minimum wage, they must also apply for permission through the U.S. Department of Labor in addition to L&I.
Workers With a Disability
If an employer can show a wage rate is justified, they can apply to pay a worker with a disability at a subminimum wage. See WAC 296-128-050 for adult workers, or WAC 296-125-043 for workers under 18.
- Note: Beginning July 31, 2023, L&I will no longer issue subminimum wage certificates for workers with a disability. Any existing certificates will remain valid until their expiration. Employers who hold active certificates after July 31, 2023 may request a one-year extension.
An employer may request to pay a worker a subminimum wage rate for on-the-job training. The employer must show that certain employment conditions exist and that experienced workers are unavailable. A certificate will not be issued for a rate less than 85% of the current minimum wage. See WAC 296-128-100 for full details.
A student who works part-time in a vocational training program, or job-training program that corresponds with education by learning through work, may qualify for a subminimum wage. This rate cannot be less than 75% of the current state minimum wage. See WAC 296-128-175 for full details.
A student who works part-time at a qualified educational institution to defray school expenses may qualify for a subminimum wage. The student cannot displace an experienced worker. They cannot earn less than 75% of minimum wage. A certificate can be issued to the education institution for a stated number of students, they do not need to apply for each student. The certificate is valid for up to one school year. See WAC 296-128-275 for full details.
An employer may request a certificate to employ an apprentice at a subminimum wage. The employer must be in an approved program with a valid apprenticeship agreement approved by the apprenticeship council. See WAC 296-128-225 and RCW 49.04.040 for full details.
How to apply
Complete the appropriate application below to apply for a subminimum wage certificate:
- Application for Student Worker, Student Learner, Learner, or Apprentice.
- Application for Workers with a Disability.
You can mail the application directly to L&I, email it to ESVariances@Lni.wa.gov, or drop it off at your local L&I office.
What L&I will do
- We will review your application and make sure the necessary supporting documentation has been included.
- We contact you if we need any clarification.
- We will issue a certificate via mail or email if approved.