If you begin dealing with a possible employment dispute, one of the first things you need to do is to figure out which state’s employment laws apply to your issue. Often times the answer to this question is easy. For example, if you live in Washington, work for a company based in Washington, and are physically located in Washington, then Washington employment laws apply.
The question becomes more difficult in real life. For example, what if an employee resides in Washington but also works in other states for an employer that is not headquartered in Washington. This issue came up recently in one of our cases.
Whether an employee is “Washington-based” depends on a number of different factors. Washington courts will apply a two-step approach to determine which state law applies. First, the court will see if there is any conflict between the applicable state laws. For example, Washington employment laws relating to rest breaks offer better protection to employees than Oregon State rest break laws. In that scenario a conflict exists.
Second, if there is a conflict, the court will try to determine which state employment laws have the most significant relationship with the employee. For example, If you live in Washington, are paid in Washington, but physically begin your work in another state, then Washington law will likely apply because it has the more significant relationship with the employee.
In the recent issue mentioned above, the federal District Court in Western Washington found that Washington employment wage laws apply to a class of truck drivers when: 1) the employees are Washington State residents; 2) they have commercial driver licenses issued by Washington; and 3) they were getting paid in Washington (the employer has also been deducting Washington state tax obligations from their wages).
If the contacts are evenly balanced, courts evaluate the interests and public policies of the concerned states, to determine which state has the greater interest in determination of the particular issue.
It is always best to consult with an employment lawyer to help with these issues. These issues are very fact specific and could have big impact on the outcome of your case.