Federal and State Laws Governing Hiring in Washington State

Employers must abide by certain regulations in the job interview process. Their intent must always be to evaluate the skills and potential of the prospective employee. They are legally allowed to ask questions pertaining to job qualification, but are not permitted to ask certain types of questions, such as those concerning marital status or sexual orientation.

What Types of Interview Questions are Illegal?

Examples of illegal and legal types of questions are as follows:

Sex Discrimination Inquiries about your marital status, private affairs, pregnancy, or plans to become pregnant. Questions about whether you can conform to the work schedule or not.
Disability-based Discrimination Inquiries into the extent and nature of your disability, or whether you will need special accommodations. Inquiries into your ability to carry out the job’s essential functions. The employer may conduct a test of your competency.
Racial Discrimination Any questions regarding your race, ethnicity, first language, memberships, birthplace, or ancestry. The employer may ask you about your proficiency in a certain language.


Drug Testing

Private employers have the right to ask established and prospective employees to submit to drug tests. They may not, however, administer the tests in a discriminatory fashion. Government employers face more drug test regulations.

I-9 Forms

Employees must sign an I-9 Form to verify their right to work in the United States. Various types of identification which employers must accept are listed on the form.

NOTE: If you believe your employer treated you unjustly concerning the documentation process, you can call the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Special Counsel at (800) 255-7688.

W-4 and W-2 Forms

At the start of your employment, you should be given a form “W-4” to fill out for tax purposes. Your employer must deduct taxes from your pay according to the information provided.

Each year, you should receive a form “W-2” from your employer.  You should file this form with your income tax return. The form should provide information on your earnings and the taxes deducted from them.

If you are given a 1099 form in place of a “W-2,” this means you were considered an independent contractor, and neither you nor the employer has paid social security or other payroll taxes. You will be paying “self-employment tax” instead, which is higher, and you will not be eligible for unemployment benefits when the job ends or workers’ compensation if you are hurt. You will also not be entitled to overtime pay or many other rights possessed by employees.   Note – Some employers try to save money by wrongfully categorizing employees as independent contractors.  Please feel free to call me if you believe you have been wrongly categorized as a contractor.

“At-will” vs. Contract Employment in Washington State

In Washington State, most employment is considered “at will,” meaning an employee may quit or be fired at any time for any reason (other a reason that is legally protected reason, such as age discrimination) or for no reason.

If you have been given an employment contract or personnel manual, you should read the contract or manual thoroughly and store them in a secure place at home. A contract will contain a list of rights and obligations to which you and your employer are bound. A personnel manual may give you rights that can be legally enforced in certain circumstances. Pay special attention to the sections that detail what is expected of you as an employee.

Chances are you will be required to fill out an employment application. You must take great care filling out the application with correct information, or you may be fired for providing wrong information.


A unionized workplace is governed by terms negotiated between the union and the employer. The contract drawn between the two parties is typically called the Collective Bargaining Agreement (or CBA). If your place of employment involves a union, many aspects of your employment – such as pay, benefits, and scheduling – are determined by the union contract.

Most unions are beneficial to workers; however, corrupt or discriminatory unions do exist. If your union is violating its duties to you and to other workers, you should call the National Labor Relations Board at (206) 220-6300.

Collective action in favor of the union, or even just collective action among employees, is activity that is protected against retaliation, but you generally must go to the National Labor Relations Board within a short time.