This page provides a general overview of state and federal discrimination laws in Washington State. It includes examples of local government ordinances that address discrimination based on sexual orientation, including gender identity and expression.
Discrimination can be a significant – and unlawful – barrier to a qualified person's ability to obtain a job, advance in their present job, or retain the job they already have. Both state and federal laws prohibit discrimination in the workplace. State law is enforced by the State Human Rights Commission and federal laws are enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Washington State Law
Under state law (RCW 49.60.180), everyone has the right to be free from discrimination at work, as well as in other situations. Discrimination occurs if an employer treats someone differently and denies them equal treatment or access because of any of the following criteria (see definitions in RCW 49.60.040):
- Race, including hairstyles and other traits associated with race or perceived to be associated with race
- National origin
- Citizenship or immigration status
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity or expression
- Marital status
- Family with children status
- The presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability
- The use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability
- Honorably discharged veteran or military status
To combat gender and wage inequality, RCW 49.58.100 prohibits employers from seeking the wage or salary history of an applicant from the applicant or from their current or former employer. However, if the applicant voluntarily discloses wage or salary history, the employer may confirm that history. The employer may also seek information after an offer of employment with compensation has been made. Additionally, employers must provide in their job postings the salary scale or salary range and benefits provided.
The State Human Rights Commission enforces the state laws prohibiting discrimination in employment, as well as in other areas, and complaints alleging discrimination may be filed with the Commission.
Below are links to applicable administrative codes.
- Ch. 162-12 WAC - Preemployment Inquiry Guide
- Ch. 162-16 WAC - Discrimination in Employment
- Ch. 162-22 WAC - Discrimination in Employment and Disability
- Ch. 162-30 WAC - Sex Discrimination: Pregnancy, Childbirth, Pregnancy-related Conditions
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides information and links to:
Discrimination Based Upon Sexual Orientation
The State Human Rights Commission (WSHRC) is authorized to enforce laws prohibiting discrimination based upon a person's sexual orientation, including gender identity and expression, as well as other laws prohibiting other types of discrimination. See RCW 49.60.180.
For additional information on discrimination based upon sexual orientation, see the following WSHRC's resources:
- Guide to Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity & The Washington State Law Against Discrimination (2014)
- Employment Self Assessment Checklist
The below codes include "sexual orientation" in the definition of harassment/discrimination and are consistent with RCW 49.60.180(1).
Examples of Anti-Discrimination Policies
For examples of anti-harassment and non-discrimination policies, see our page on Sexual Harassment.
- Washington State Human Rights Commission: Employment - Provides detailed information on the Washington State Law Against Discrimination and the various types of discrimination covered by the law.