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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: 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:

(Link to this question)

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:

(Link to this question)

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:

(Link to this question)

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.

(Link to this question)

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.

(Link to this question)

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.

(Link to this question)

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.

(Link to this question)

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.

(Link to this question)

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:

(Link to this question)

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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Reviewed: November 2019

Yes. Regarding employee review of a personnel file, that RCW 49.12.240 provides:

Every employer shall, at least annually, upon the request of an employee, permit that employee to inspect any or all of his or her own personnel file(s).

Regarding correction of erroneous or disputed information in the file, RCW 49.12.250 states:

(1) Each employer shall make such file(s) available locally within a reasonable period of time after the employee requests the      file(s).

(2) An employee annually may petition that the employer review all information in the employee’s personnel file(s) that are regularly maintained by the employer as a part of his business records or are subject to reference for information given to persons outside of the company. The employer shall determine if there is any irrelevant or erroneous information in the file(s), and shall remove all such information from the file(s). If an employee does not agree with the employer’s determination, the employee may at his or her request have placed in the employee’s personnel file a statement containing the employee’s rebuttal or correction. Nothing in this subsection prevents the employer from removing information more frequently.

(3) A former employee shall retain the right of rebuttal or correction for a period not to exceed two years.

Regarding limitations on an employee’s inspection of his/her personnel file, RCW 49.12.260 provides:

RCW 49.12.240 and 49.12.250 do not apply to the records of an employee relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense. RCW 49.12.240 and 49.12.250 do not apply to information or records compiled in preparation for an impending lawsuit which would not be available to another party under the rules of pretrial discovery for causes pending in the superior courts.

If the exemptions in RCW 49.12.260 may apply, we recommend you review the file with your legal counsel.

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: October 2019

MRSC has a webpage relating to Required Employment Posters. There are a number of resources on that webpage including a helpful fact sheet entitled, Workplace Posters: Required and Recommended, prepared by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I). The fact sheet provides a list of posters that Washington State and federal agencies require or recommend employers post in their places of business. The fact sheet also includes online resources and contact numbers for state agencies that issue posters. MRSC's Required Employment Posters page also has links to federally-required employment posters. Note that the list is not intended to be exhaustive and we recommend you also consult with your agency attorney.

L&I also has a webpage entitled “Answers to questions about required workplace posters” that we recommend you review because it includes additional information about signage requirements including whether you are required to post in languages other than English.

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: October 2019

State law governs reimbursement of state and local officials for reimbursement of travel expenses. RCW 42.24.090 allows the governing body of a local government to, at its discretion, adopt a policy authorizing travel and meal reimbursement if certain criteria is satisfied:

No claim for reimbursement of any expenditures by officers or employees of any municipal corporation or political subdivision of the state for transportation, lodging, meals or any other purpose shall be allowed by any officer, employee or board charged with auditing accounts unless the same shall be presented in a detailed account: PROVIDED, That, unless otherwise authorized by law, the legislative body of any municipal corporation or political subdivision of the state may prescribe by ordinance or resolution the amounts to be paid officers or employees thereof as reimbursement for the use of their personal automobiles or other transportation equipment in connection with officially assigned duties and other travel for approved public purposes, or as reimbursement to such officers or employees in lieu of actual expenses incurred for lodging, meals or other purposes. The rates for such reimbursements may be computed on a mileage, hourly, per diem, monthly, or other basis as the respective legislative bodies shall determine to be proper in each instance: PROVIDED, That in lieu of such reimbursements, payments for the use of personal automobiles for official travel may be established if the legislative body determines that these payments would be less costly to the municipal corporation or political subdivision of the state than providing automobiles for official travel.

All claims authorized under this section shall be duly certified by the officer or employee submitting such claims on forms and in the manner prescribed by the state auditor.

There is some flexibility associated with travel reimbursement as shown above in RCW 42.24.090. The statute requires a travel policy to establish how officers and employees shall be reimbursed for travel costs associated with their work. Local governments typically have such travel policies to fit the needs of their respective jurisdictions.

We have a webpage that provides examples of meal and travel policies adopted by local governments. If your agency has a policy for reimbursement of travel and meal expenses incurred in connection with official business, then you should follow that policy with respect to requests for reimbursement. If there is not a policy, your agency should consider adopting one—the webpage linked above has numerous examples that may be helpful in that regard.

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