A scenic view of Washington D.C.

Washington, D.C., is unique among American cities. The District of Columbia employs more than one million people in tourism, military, manufacturing, information technology, law, education, finance, and government-related research fields. Although the federal government is seated in Washington, the city itself offers wage and employment laws that are significantly more favorable to workers.

Despite these strong worker protections, however, not all employees are treated as the law requires. If you believe you are not being paid fairly or fully for your work, reach out to The Lore Law Firm.

An Overview of Wage And Hour Protections In Washington

Washington, D.C. has some of the most favorable wage and hour laws in the country. Compared to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), they provide more protections regarding overtime pay, paid leave, and minimum wage. For instance, workers in the District enjoy these benefits:

  • The ability to demand back wages for unpaid work plus three times their wages (as liquidated damages) and attorney’s fees and costs
  • A broad definition of “wages” that includes nearly any type of compensation owed to an employee, including bonuses, commissions, and vacation pay
  • A presumption of retaliation for any adverse action taken within 90 days of a complaint, which can only be rebutted with “clear and convincing” evidence
  • Strict criteria to determine if a worker is an independent contractor, which more often favors the classification of an individual as an employee
  • Joint and several liability for general contractors and staffing companies who commit wage violations, which protects construction workers in particular
  • Nearly all D.C. workers are protected, regardless of pay level or exemption status

What Is the Minimum Wage In Washington, D.C.?

The District has one of the highest minimum wages in the nation. As of July 1, 2022, it is $16.10 per hour. For tipped employees, their minimum wage is $5.35 per hour as of July 1, 2022. However, if an employee’s hourly tipped earnings added to the base of $5.35 do not add up to the $16.10/hour rate, the employer must pay the difference.

Washington also has a Minimum Daily Wage requirement for employees who regularly work a shift that is more than 4 hours long. Your employer must pay you for at least four hours for each day you report to work. That means if you report to work but are sent home or are given fewer than four hours, your employer must still pay you for four hours of work at the minimum wage rate.

Most, but not all, workers in Washington, D.C. are protected by the District’s minimum wage laws. To be covered, one of the following must apply:

  • The employee must regularly spend more than 50% of their working time in the District of Columbia; or
  • The worker’s employment must be based in the District and the person must regularly spend a substantial amount of their working time in the District, with not more than 50% of their working time being spent in any particular state

Also, an employee’s immigration status does not affect their entitlement to minimum wage.

Overtime Pay Requirements In Washington D.C.

Overtime is considered any number of hours worked over 40 per work week. An employer that requires or permits an employee to work overtime generally must pay an overtime rate for those hours. The rate is at least one-and-a-half times the employee’s regular pay rate. So-called mandatory overtime is permitted as long as the worker is properly compensated.

Employees who are denied overtime pay can recover 10% of their unpaid wages for each day the wages are late, up to four times the amount that is owed. They can also recover attorney’s fees and costs.

Not all workers are eligible for overtime. Some examples are:

  • White-collar employees
  • Salespeople earning commissions
  • Outside salespersons
  • Seamen
  • Railroad employees
  • United States government employees
  • Casual babysitters
  • Live-in domestic workers
  • Independent contractors

It should be noted that certain criteria apply to each of these categories. Employers can, and do, attempt to intentionally misclassify workers to avoid the added costs of overtime pay. If you are unsure whether you meet one of these exemptions, talk to a wage and hour attorney.

Who Is Considered An Independent Contractor?

Because independent contractors are generally less protected than employees, employers often attempt to misclassify their workers as contractors. Courts will examine several factors to determine whether an independent contractor should actually be treated as an employee. They include:

  • Whether the employer paid wages to the worker
  • Whether the employer has the right to control and direct the worker in the performance of their work and the manner in which the work is done
  • Whether the service provided by the worker is part of the employer’s regular business

If one or more of these factors is present, it is more likely that a worker will be found to be an employee rather than an independent contractor.

Misclassified construction workers are uniquely vulnerable without the protection of workers’ compensation and paid sick leave, because of the high-risk nature of their work. The District’s Workplace Fraud Act applies specifically to the construction industry and requires companies to classify workers as employees in most circumstances. To classify a worker as an independent contractor, construction companies must prove that:

  • An individual is free from the employer’s direction and control;
  • An individual is economically independent; and
  • The individual’s work falls outside of the core business of that company

Sick And Safe Leave In Washington, D.C.

Employers must provide paid sick leave to employees who need time off for their own illnesses, a family member’s illness, or to deal with domestic violence. The law covers all employers, but the amount of leave that must be allowed depends on the employer’s size. The following size, leave rates and caps apply:

  • Employers with 100+ employees. Employees accrue at least one hour of paid leave for every 37 hours worked, capped at seven days per year.
  • Employers with 25-99 employees. Employees accrue at least one hour of paid leave for every 43 hours worked, capped at five days per year. Tipped employees of bars and restaurants also fall under this category, regardless of the employer’s size.
  • Employers with fewer than 25 employees. Employees accrue at least one hour of paid leave for every 87 hours worked, capped at three days per year.

If the need for leave is foreseeable (e.g. a scheduled doctor’s appointment), the employee must give the employer ten days’ notice. If the need is not foreseeable (e.g. a sudden family illness), the employee can give oral notice before the start of the work shift.

Meals And Breaks For Washington D.C. Workers

D.C. labor laws do not have meal or break requirements, so the FLSA rules apply. Although federal law doesn’t require an employer to provide either a meal or break period, if an employer chooses to do so, short breaks must be paid. Meal or lunch periods lasting 30 minutes or more do not need to be paid, provided the employee is free to do as they wish during those periods.

Common Wage And Hour Problems In Washington D.C.

While workers in Washington, D.C. enjoy substantial wage and hour rights, not all employers respect them. These are just a few examples of common problems for D.C. employees:

Minimum wage violations. The D.C. Department of Employment Services (DOES) estimates that the minimum wage rights of nearly 40,000 employees are violated every year. These violations occur in a number of ways, such as:

  • Not paying the current minimum wage hourly rate
  • Not paying tipped workers enough when their base rate plus tips don’t add up to the minimum wage rate
  • Attempting to skirt the law by paying weekly “salaries” that do not add up to the minimum wage rate
  • Improperly applying an exemption to exclude a worker from minimum wage
  • Not paying workers the minimum daily wage for short shifts
  • Denying minimum wage based on an employee’s immigration status

Overtime pay violations. Refusal to pay time and a half for work over 40 hours per week is a common practice. The reasons vary. Some employers claim they are not required to pay because the worker requested more hours. Because some categories of workers are exempt from this protection, an employer may also try to misclassify an employee.

Independent contractor violations. There’s a strong temptation to misclassify an employee as an independent contractor and thereby deny wage and hour protections. One way is to force the employee to sign an agreement that identifies the worker as an independent contractor. Courts will still apply the above-mentioned factors to determine the true nature of the employment relationship.

Sick and safe leave violations. Companies that do not provide enough safe and sick leave to employees, based on the size of their workforce, could be in violation of this law. Some employers attempt to require their employees to give more notice than the law requires. In other cases, they deny receiving notice or refuse to accept the oral notice.

Meal and break violations. If your employer is not paying you for short breaks, it could be violating federal law. Our firm can advise you as to your rights under the FLSA.

Retaliation. Employer retaliation against employees who assert their rights or take legal action is fairly common. And it can take many forms, including termination, demotion, denial of a promotion, and much more.

Statute of Limitations For Wage And Hour Claims

You do not have an unlimited amount of time to file a complaint for wage and hour violations. Employees in Washington, D.C. have three years from the date of the employer’s wage violation to bring a claim to recover unpaid overtime or other wages. However, employees are advised to not wait. Evidence can be lost and witnesses can forget things over time.

If you wait too long, the ability to recover all of the unpaid wages and damages can be lost. For example, suppose your employer has failed to pay you proper overtime wages since January 1, 2019. Waiting until June 1, 2023, to file your lawsuit means you are, at most, only allowed to seek unpaid wages going back to June 1, 2020 – instead of January 1, 2019. 

Contact Our Washington, D.C. Overtime Wage And Hour Attorney

No one should be denied fair pay. Sadly, however, employers are skilled at coming up with ways to try and reduce labor expenses, many of which violate their workers’ rights. And far too few employees are fully aware of what those rights are. If you believe you’re not being paid fairly and legally, or you’re simply not sure, reach out to The Lore Law Firm for a free and confidential review of your situation.