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Ask MRSC - Personnel

Below are selected “Ask MRSC” inquiries we have received from local governments throughout Washington State related to personnel and human resources. Click on any question to see the answer.

These questions are for educational purposes only. All questions and answers have been edited and adapted for posting to the MRSC website, and all identifying information, including the inquirer’s name and agency name, has been removed.

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Reviewed: February 2024

Health insurance is not considered compensation for elected officials and is not subject to the state constitution's limitations on increasing salaries of elected officials. Below is additional information from the Elected Officials section of our Health Insurance Benefits page:

By the state constitution the salary of local elected officials may not be increased after their election or during the officer’s term of office (Art. XI, section 8). Adding medical insurance coverage to elected officials after their election, one might think, would violate this constitutional prohibition, but it does not. RCW 41.04.190 provides that:

The cost of a [health insurance] policy or plan to a public agency or body is not additional compensation to the employees or elected officials covered thereby.

Most health benefits for elected officials are adopted informally by a motion but they can also be adopted by resolution. See the example below.

  • Lynden Resolution No. 995 (2019) – Authorizes the mayor and councilmembers to enroll in a health insurance plan currently offered to qualified city employees

A stipend could also be given to an elected official instead of health insurance, but a stipend would be treated as extra compensation. Given the constitutional prohibition against additional compensation during a term of office, the stipend could not be given or accepted until the officer starts or is re-elected into a new term. While the provision of medical insurance to an elected official is not considered by statute to be additional compensation (RCW 41.04.190), there is no similar provision made for stipends.

See the policy example below:

For more information on the provision of health and other benefits to elected officials, see our blog post, Elected Officials and Benefits Programs.

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Reviewed: January 2024

There are federal standards and limitations regarding hours of service for commercial drivers. See this Summary of the Hours of Service Regulations for property- and passenger-carrying drivers from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA); the FMCSA Hours of Service page, and 49 C.F.R. Part 395. See also the Washington State Department of License’s Commercial Driver Guide at p. 1-20 that includes a summary of the limitations on hours of service (Section 1.10.12).

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Reviewed: October 2023

The city must have adopted an employee recognition or wellness program, and the dollar amount of each card cannot exceed the limits in that policy (see AGO 1995 No. 13). We are frequently asked if some tangible form of recognition can be given after an employee or group of employees has shown some extra effort or outstanding performance and MRSC consultants consistently reply that any recognition program should be in place beforehand. Having a policy in place before purchasing and distributing the cards avoids the State Constitution’s prohibitions on gifting of public funds, Article VIII, Sec. 7, and the prohibition on extra compensation, Article II, Sec. 25, beyond that set by your city council. If the cards are given as part of an established policy, then the cards are considered as part of an employee’s compensation package.

The MRSC webpage, Employee Recognition and Suggestion Award Programs, includes a number of examples of codes and policies from a variety of jurisdictions.

One thing to note about providing gift cards is that they are considered taxable income to the employee. For more on that, please see the IRS Publication 15-B, Employer's Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits. It states:

Cash and cash equivalent fringe benefits (for example, use of gift card, charge card, or credit card), no matter how little, are never excludable as a de minimis benefit.

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Reviewed: October 2023

Local governments are allowed to provide tuition reimbursement to employees. In order to avoid a gift of public funds issue, local governments should develop a policy that ties the tuition reimbursement to compensation in the form of a benefit. The policy should also articulate the municipal purpose associated with this benefit (e.g., more competent/better trained personnel). Here are some cities that have developed policies:

The policy should include items such as who is eligible, how much can be reimbursed, and any conditions that must be met. You may find additional examples on our Personnel Policy Manuals and Employee Recognition and Suggestion Award Programs pages.

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Reviewed: April 2023

No. While Washington State has adopted a variety of laws to protect against discrimination in the job application/hiring process, none of these laws prevent a potential employer from asking a candidate if they have previously been fired.

RCW 49.60.180(4) specifically identifies unfair practices as any form of application or inquiry in connection with prospective employment related to age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, national origin, citizenship or immigration status or military status (including honorable discharge) but does not mention any limitations regarding prior employment.

WAC 162-12-140 provides additional examples of the type of information a potential employer is restricted in inquiring about but is silent on prior employment inquiries.

Here is an example of an application packet for court clerk that requires the applicant to fill out employment history. See Black Diamond’s application packet for court clerk.

MRSC has a variety of different resources to review addressing job postings and the hiring process:

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Reviewed: March 2023

Below are several examples of recruiting/hiring policies that emphasize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) policies, personnel policies, and DEI studies/plans. I’ve also included some additional resources that may be helpful.

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) policies:

Personnel policies (see additional examples on MRSC’s Personnel Policy Manuals page):

DEI and recruiting plans:

MRSC resources:

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Reviewed: January 2023

Below are some examples and resources that should be helpful. Additionally, some programs may be located in personnel manuals (see our Personnel Policy Manuals page for examples).

Local examples:

Washington State Department of Labor & Industries resources:

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Reviewed: June 2022

Currently, there are no state requirements to 1) advertise for job openings or 2) that dictate what is required to be in a job advertisement.

However, starting January 1, 2023, all employers with 15 or more employees must include in all job postings the wage scale or salary range, and a general description of the benefits and other compensation to be offered to the hired applicant. See ESSB 5761. Assuming your small district has less than 15 employees, this requirement would not apply. For tips on recruiting employees in this tight labor market, see this recent MRSC blog post: Recruiting for Local Government Positions.

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Reviewed: June 2022
Municipal corporations are excluded from the definition of “employers” that are required to obtain a work permit by RCW 49.12.005(3) and WAC 296-125-015(4). However, the city must comply with the rest of the requirements for employing minors in RCW 49.12.110-.124.

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Reviewed: May 2022

We do not have a comprehensive list of jurisdictions that have adopted Juneteenth as a holiday, but we do have several examples below.

The Washington State Legislature adopted SHB 1016, making Juneteenth (June 19) a paid state holiday, effective July 2021. Because June 19 is a Sunday this year, it will be observed for the first time on Monday, June 20, 2022. President Joe Biden also signed legislation into law making Juneteenth a U.S. federal holiday. The date of June 19 commemorates the day in 1865 when knowledge of the Emancipation Proclamation and the abolishment of slavery reached the last remaining enslaved people in Galveston, Texas.

While local governments are not required to follow either the federal or state legal holiday schedule, many do, and RCW 1.16.050(6) authorizes the local legislative body to set their local government holiday schedules. Some jurisdictions that have adopted Juneteenth as a paid holiday for local government employees include Battle Ground, Bellingham, Bremerton, Burien, Burlington, Centralia, Edmonds, King County, Lynnwood, Renton, Seattle, Sumner, Walla Walla, Woodway, and Yakima. Olympia has an agreement with the International Association of Fire Fighters – Mechanics that includes Juneteenth as a paid holiday. Examples of Juneteenth proclamations are located in MRSC’s Sample Document Library, and include Kirkland's proclamation on Juneteenth and Snohomish County’s resolution.

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Reviewed: November 2021

Generally, there is not an obligation to withhold state income tax for employees living in another state, at least for Oregon residents. An employee that resides in a neighboring state might telecommute temporarily, permanently, or not at all. The employee’s state income tax obligation is triggered by their state of residence and not where they perform their work.

For the State of Oregon, the employer may, but is not required to, withhold state income taxes. Here is an FAQ from the Oregon Department of Revenue:

Q. What about employers located outside of Oregon? Are they required to withhold for Oregon residents working out of state?
A. It isn’t required, but we do ask employers to register and withhold taxes as a convenience to the employee.

One thing to consider for your telecommute policy is if you intend to limit it to an employee’s permanent domicile. During the last year or so many people temporarily relocated to different states without permanently moving there. Even a temporary residency could trigger an obligation for the employee to pay income tax in that state, and there is a possibility that state could require withholding. You will want to establish a procedure to verify your obligations for any state you allow your employees to work from.

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Reviewed: November 2021

In Washington, employers are not required to provide employees with vacation benefits, either paid or unpaid. WA Dept. of Labor & Industries: Vacation Leave. If an employer chooses to provide such benefits, it must comply with the terms of its established policy or employment contract.

In most instances, employers link the use of accrued vacation time with the completion of the probationary period. This probationary period is particularly important for union-represented and civil service employees, because after this period they can only be let go for cause and have other due process rights.

If employees are union-represented, the probationary period (and how soon accrued vacation leave can be taken) may be established in that document as well. If you have a mix of represented and unrepresented employees, it is possible that the city adopts a standard for unrepresented employees that is consistent with the standard for represented employees just for the ease of tracking.

Again, while a common benefit, there is no legal requirement to provide vacation time. Only a minimum amount of sick time is mandatory under Washington law (1 hour per 40 hours worked), which an employee is entitled to start using no later than 90 days after they start working. (See LNI’s website for more information on the requirements of the Paid Sick Leave Law.) Some jurisdictions are opting to allow the use of accrued sick leave that is in excess of the state minimum as well as accrued vacation time after 90 days – just for the ease of administration – particularly if the employer opts to have all leave in a single PTO bucket.

From a policy perspective, the reasons for shorter versus longer periods preventing the use of accrued vacation time appear to be shifting in the current job market.

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Reviewed: August 2021

While the city can require a firefighter to be 21-years-of-age, they can also lower that to 18.

Under the state law for civil service, an applicant for a position as a firefighter “must be of an age suitable for the position applied for.” RCW 41.08.070. As well, the Attorney General’s Office stated in an opinion that “there is no statute barring a person over 18 years of age but less than 21 years of age from serving as a law enforcement officer, a prison guard, a firefighter, or a paramedic, provided that the person otherwise meets all qualifications for the job in question.” AGO 1999 No 6.

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Reviewed: September 2020

Independent contractors are exempt from minimum wage requirements. See RCW 49.46.010(3)(d) defining "employee" for purposes of the state minimum wage act, to specifically not include "[a]ny individual engaged in the activities of an . . . local government body . . . where the employer-employee relationship does not in fact exist . . ."

As stated by the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) in its administrative policy on the Minimum Wage Act Applicability, "A bona fide independent contractor is exempt from the MWA (Minimum Wage Act) because that person is not 'employed' by an employer."

The critical thing here is to make sure that the individual is truly an independent contractor. The test for whether someone is an independent contractor depends to a great extent on the amount of control the employer has over the worker. Some guides that may be of use to you (in the event you are unsure whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor) are:

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Reviewed: March 2020

The Washington Labor rules in WAC Chapter 296-126, which include the meal and rest rules in WAC 296-126-092, do not apply to “[a]ny individual employed in a bona fide executive, administrative or professional capacity or in the capacity of outside salesperson” because such persons are not included in the definition of “employee” for purposes of the rule. See WAC 296-126-002 (2)(b).

The Washington Minimum Wage and Overtime law also does not apply to certain “bona fide executive, administrative or professional” individuals, as well as many other kinds of employees. RCW 49.46.010(3)(c). All of these employees, including the professionals, are often referred to as “exempt.” However, WAC 296-128-500, provides a further definition of the professional terms that define duties and a base salary. So it is possible to have an employee that performs executive, administrative, or professional functions that doesn’t meet the rule’s definition for purposes of the exemption.

The same is true under the federal law. See MRSC's page on Overtime and Comp Time.

WAC 296-126-092 does not provide a definition of executive, administrative, or professional, but it is likely safe to assume that the duty and salary based definition in WAC 296-128-500 applies. In fact, a federal district court found that a salaried pharmacist was a “professional” and thus not subject to the Washington meal and rest break rules. Parmar v. Safeway, US District Court (W.D. Washington) March 14, 2011 (unpublished decision).

So, if you have employees that are “exempt” under the state and federal law for overtime pay in part because they are “bona fide executive, administrative or professional” employees, then the Washington meal and break rules would not apply to them because of the overlap in terms. So it is less that an overtime “exempt” employee is also exempt from the meal and break rules (because the word “exempt” means many types of employees), but rather an individual that meets the definition of the professional type of “exempt” employee likely meets the definition of a professional employee that is also not subject to the meal and break rules. There may be other types of overtime “Exempt” employees that ARE subject to meal and break rules.

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