While Washington is an at-will employment state, employers cannot fire or retaliate against an employee who exercises a protected right or files a complaint under certain employment laws.
State law gives employees protection in the following areas:
- Minimum Wage Act, including overtime, paid sick leave, and tips and service charges.
- Injured worker’s claims.
- Safety complaints.
- Discrimination in the workplace including sexual harassment and protected classes.
- Protected leave.
- Equal Pay and Opportunities Act including wage discussions and gender pay equality.
Depending on the situation, L&I will investigate your complaint or refer you to the appropriate agency. You may have additional rights against termination or retaliation under a collective bargaining agreement, in your employer’s policies, or under federal law. However, L&I does not have enforcement authority in these areas.
At-will employment means that employers do not need to establish cause or give notice before firing an employee. That being said, it is against the law for an employer to fire or retaliate against an employee for discussing or filing a complaint about a violation of their protected rights.
Q. Is it legal to be fired from a job for no reason?
A. Washington is an at-will employment state. Businesses may fire any employee at any time, for any or no reason, as long as they are not violating any employee protection laws.
However, workers may request the reason for discharge by sending a written request to the business for a signed written statement of the reason for discharge and the effective date. See WAC 296-126-050(3) for details.
Q. Is it legal for a worker to be fired from their job without any notice?
A. The law does not require employers to give a worker notice before terminating their job. Employers are not required to give warnings or follow any particular steps before terminating an employee.
An employer cannot take adverse actions against an employee who exercises a protected right, files or intends to file a complaint, or who has discussed potential violations of their rights. Prohibited adverse actions may include:
- Terminating, suspending, demoting, or denying a promotion.
- Reducing hours or altering the employee’s work schedule.
- Reducing the employee’s rate of pay.
- Threatening to take, or taking action, based upon the immigration status of an employee or an employee’s family member.
- Subjecting the employee to discipline, including write-ups, verbal warnings, points, etc.
If you think that you have been retaliated against for exercising your rights under the minimum wage act you can download and fill out a Retaliation Complaint Form (Minimum Wage Act & Paid Sick Leave) (F700-199-000) and mail it to the address on the form or drop it off at any L&I office.