Senate Bill 5355 would assume employers are guilty until proven innocent

Mar 25, 2021

On the surface, Senate Bill 5355 (SB 5355) would seem to create additional protections for employees from employers who fail to pay wages on time or all the wages that are owed. However, when you look at the details of the bill, there is no provision in SB 5355 that isn’t already enforceable in law. SB 5355 instead sets up a situation where disgruntled employees can place liens on the homes and assets of a business owner without justification in retaliation for a perceived offence.

Current law provides protection for employees from non-payment of wages by allowing employees that have not received contracted compensation to file a grievance with the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) or file a civil suit against their employer. L&I addresses the complaint with the employer to verify if the complaint is justified and resolves the issue by either requiring the employer to pay the employee appropriately (along with penalties or fines) or explaining to the employee why the disputed wage is not owed to them.

SB 5355 allows an employee to file a wage lien against an employer, before they even give notice to the employer of a wage dispute. This creates a situation where a disgruntled or fired employee is able to financially penalize an employer even if the claim is not warranted. The lien prevents the employer from selling or transferring the asset that the lien is against. In the case of a house, the employer would not be able to refinance or sell their own home until the lien is lifted which could take several years.

This creates a guilty until proven innocent situation. The employer is assumed to have not paid the employee appropriately and has to prove otherwise in order to have the lien removed. Additionally, there is no path for appeal. If L&I decides the claimant is correct, the employer has no avenue to appeal for relief.

Of course, there are employers who do not pay employees the amount they are owed and on time, but conversely there are also employees that have either not performed their job as required and are looking for a quick way to make some extra money.

The assumption should always be the accused party is innocent until proven guilty.

SB 5355 turns jurisprudence on its head and requires the employer to prove they are innocent. This is the wrong approach to dealing with ‘dead beat’ employers, even if they are unscrupulous in the way they deal with employees. Current law is sufficient to prosecute the employer that is not following the rules and provide relief (and owed Salary) for employees.

Senate Bill 5355 is unnecessary legislation.

Currently SB 5355 has passed off the floor of the Senate and is due to be voted on in the House Labor and Workplace Standards committee on March 26th.

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