Washington D.C. Wage Law Explained
Washington, D.C., is unique among American cities. The District of Columbia provides the more than one million people working in tourism, military, manufacturing, information technology, law, education, finance, and government-related research fields with some of the most favorable wage and hour laws in the country.
Understanding Washington D.C. Wage and Overtime laws
D.C. labor laws provide more protections to employees than the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, regarding overtime pay, paid leave time and minimum wage.
One significant benefit under D.C. wage law is the ability of workers to recover up to 4 times their unpaid back wages. The law defines “wages” very broadly so as to cover almost any type of compensation owed an employee, including commissions, bonuses, fringe benefits and vacation pay. This wage protection law applies to almost all workers in D.C., regardless of their pay level or exemption status.
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The District has one of the highest minimum wages in the nation, currently $15 per hour as of July 1, 2020.
Minimum wage rates per year:
- 2021: Adjusted based on Consumer Price Index
- July 1, 2020: $15.00
- July 1, 2019: $14.00
- July 1, 2018: $13.25
- July 1, 2017: $12.50
Also, tipped workers are slated to make at least $5 an hour in cash wages as of July 2020 ($4.45 as of 7/1/2019 and $3.89 as of 7/1/2018).
D.C. also has a Minimum Daily Wage (sometimes referred to as Reporting Time) requirement for employees who regularly work a shift that is more than 4 hours long. Such employees must be paid for at least four hours of work for each day they report to work.
- If you report to work but are sent home, your employer must pay you for four hours of work at the regular minimum wage.
- If you report to work and are given less than four hours of work, your employer must pay you at your regular hourly rate for the hours worked, and at the regular minimum wage for the remainder of four hours not worked.
While most employees in D.C. are protected under the law, there are a few exceptions – however, merely being paid a salary is not one of them. Many employers (particularly restaurants) will attempt to avoid the wage laws by paying kitchen and other back of house staff weekly salaries that do not amount to minimum wage for each hour worked, nor do they pay overtime.
To be covered by the minimum wage laws:
- The Worker must regularly spend more than 50% of their working time in the District of Columbia; or
- The worker’s employment is based in the District of Columbia and the person regularly spends a substantial amount of their working time in the District of Columbia and not more than 50% of their working time in any particular state.
An employee’s immigration status does not affect their entitlement to a minimum wage.
Overtime pay law in D.C.
In D.C, an employer that either requires or permits an employee to work overtime is generally required to pay that employee a premium for those hours. Overtime in D.C. is considered any hours worked over 40 hours per workweek, and the pay for overtime hours is at least one-and-a-half times an employee’s regular pay rate.
An employer doesn’t violate overtime laws by requiring employees to work overtime, (ie “mandatory overtime”), as long as they are properly compensated at the premium rate required by law.
Under the District of Columbia Minimum Wage Act, employees who are denied the overtime wages they are owed when they work over 40 in a workweek can recover 10% of their unpaid wages for each day the wages are late…up to 4 times the amount of wages that are owed, plus attorney’s fees and costs.
Those not eligible for overtime
While many workers in the District of Columbia are entitled to overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours per week, D.C. laws don’t extend overtime protections to every worker.
Employees who may not be entitled to overtime pay under D.C. labor laws include:
- White-Collar Employees executive, administrative, or professional as defined by the Fair Labor Standards Act
- Salespeople earning commissions at a retail or service establishment and: (1) The regular rate of pay of the employee is in excess of 1 1/2 times the minimum hourly rate applicable to the employee under this subchapter; and (2) More than 1/2 of the employee’s compensation for a representative period (not less than 1 month) represents commissions on goods or services.
- Outside Salespersons
- Railroad employees
- United States Government Employees.
- Casual babysitters and live-in Domestic Workers
To determine whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor, the D.C. courts and regulatory agencies will weigh the following factors. If these factors are present, it is more likely that a worker will be found to be an employee, rather than an independent contractor.
- Whether the employer paid the worker wages;
- 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 worker’s provided service is part of the employer’s regular business.
Meals and breaks
D.C. labor laws don’t have meal or break requirements. As a result, the FLSA rules apply. The federal law doesn’t require an employer to provide either a meal period or breaks. However, 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, so long as the employee is free to do as they wish during the meal or lunch period.
Sick and safe leave
Employers in Washington, D.C., must provide paid sick leave to employees who need time off for their own illnesses, the illness of a family member, or to deal with domestic violence to comply with the District’s Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act, ASSL.
The law covers all employers, but the amount of leave available depends on the size of the employer. The following accrual rates and caps apply:
Employers with 100 or more employees
- Employees accrue at least one hour of paid leave for every 37 hours worked, up to seven days of leave per year.
Employers with 25 to 99 employees
- Employees accrue at least one hour of paid leave for every 43 hours worked, up to five days of leave per year. Tipped employees of bars and restaurants also fall under this category, regardless of the size of their employers.
Employers with less than 25 employees
- Employees must accrue at least one hour of paid leave for every 87 hours worked, up to three days of leave per year.
Ten days’ notice to the employer is required if the need for leave is foreseeable. Examples include a scheduled doctor’s appointment or surgery. If the need for leave is not predictable, like sudden death or illness, the employee can give oral notice prior to the start of the work shift.
Statute of limitations
The Washington, D.C. deadline for filing a claim to recover unpaid overtime or other wages is three years (for “willful violations”) from the date of the employer’s wage violation. However, employees should not delay in protecting their rights and file their claim as soon as possible.
For example, suppose you believe that your employer has failed to pay you minimum wage since January 1, 2016. Waiting until June 1, 2020, to file your lawsuit means you are, at most, only allowed to seek unpaid wages from June 1, 2017, to June 1, 2020.
Not being correctly compensated? Need a D.C. Wage and Hour Lawyer?
The Lore Law Firm represents salaried, hourly, and day-rate workers in an array of employment litigation matters, including unpaid compensation claims. Our attorneys are compassionate, competitive, and committed to fighting for the rights of workers throughout the District of Columbia.
To make the most of your chance to get just compensation, you need a law firm that will negotiate settlements or fight injustice in the courtroom. Make sure you’re getting everything for which you’ve worked so hard by talking to an attorney at the Lore Law Firm.