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Seattle closes its first ‘$15 minimum wage’ investigation

It’s been five months since Seattle’s minimum wage law went into effect, effectively giving thousands of workers a pay raise as well as creating a new office to investigate violations of the law. Earlier this month, the relatively new Office of Labor Standards launched a dashboard to track the number of wage complaints and investigations.

So far there’s been just one closed investigation of wage theft in Seattle. It came against Homegrown sandwich shop, which has several locations in the city including one inside Capitol Hill’s Melrose Market.

According to Homegrown co-owner Ben Friedman, the investigation was opened in May after Homegrown was found to be miscalculating their tip credit at all their Seattle locations. Under the minimum wage ordinance, the tip credit allows smaller companies to pay $10 an hour if employees make $11 an hour with tips.

“Within days of receiving the notice, we sent letters out to all of our employees affected by the issue, along with back pay plus interest. The Seattle Office of Labor Standards quickly closed their investigation,” Friedman told CHS in an email.

Friedman said all Homegrown employees are now paid in compliance with the ordinance, including those working outside the city limits.

From the OLS dashboard

From the OLS dashboard

Between April and June, the OLS has opened 27 investigations into wage theft complaints — the result of 758 employer inquiries and 71 employee inquiries. All but the Homegrown investigation remain open as the City works to bring employers into compliance. The OLS counts inquiries as any call an employer or employee makes to ask about the wage ordinance, whether or not a specific complaint is involved. Details of OLS investigations are not made public until they are complete.

The wage theft ordinance added the following provisions to the cities existing wage ordinance:

  • Written notice of pay rate and tip policies at time of hire or change of employment
  • Requirement to pay wages and tips
  • Written notice of employees’ tips each pay day
  • Written notice to employees of their rights to wage and tip compensation

Mayor Ed Murray signed in the historic $15 minimum wage law last year during a ceremony at Cal Anderson Park. It followed more than a year of protests and strikes by fast-food workers.

In April, the minimum wage at Seattle employers with more than 500 employees rose to $11 — an 18% jump. Employees at smaller companies with no tips and no medical benefits will also have a $11 an hour floor. Small employers of tipped workers and employers that provide medical benefits may pay a $10 minimum and make up the balance with credit for the tips.

The schedule for the full implementation of Seattle’s $15 minimum wage law calls for workers at employers of all types to reach that level by 2021:


City Vouncil member Kshama Sawant rode into office by making the $15 minimum wage a cornerstone of her 2013 campaign. In her bid to represent District 3, Sawant has repeatedly cited the minimum wage fight as proof that enacting rent control is possible despite huge hurdles in Olympia.

To make an inquiry or file a minimum wage ordinance complaint, contact the Office of Labor Standards here

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13 thoughts on “Seattle closes its first ‘$15 minimum wage’ investigation

  1. Bryan – unless I’m missing something, your “repeatedly cited” link doesn’t seem to contain any instances of Sawant citing the minimum wage fight as evidence of the likelihood of rent control (specifically, mentioning it at all). Did you mean to link something else?

  2. Seems like we created an expensive solution to a problem that is more about education than enforcement. In this case the owners thought they were following the law, were informed they weren’t, and corrected it immediately. And it’s the only case so far. The city’s response is to claim this is a widespread problem and through millions of dollars at it, none of it being used, so far, for educating employers.

    And in this case, as I assume will be most cases, instead of the automatic triple damages and interest the mayor and labor want employers to have to pay in cases like this, the current rules proved to be effective.

    I sure would hate to own a business in this town with this administration.

    • HG may have believed they were in compliance, but without the leverage of OLS, its employees would have had no recourse. Wage theft is common, even at the old minimum wage. Education will help in some cases, but in most cases employers wager on employees’ fear or unenlightenment of their rights. It’s not a misunderstanding.

      • I don’t think you understand. It’s not a problem for Ieatout so there’s no enforcement necessary, just “education” which apparently would be free?

      • Again, most cases of wage theft aren’t “misunderstandings.” And in the HG case, they had the same information other employers and the HG staff did. Mailing a flier wouldn’t change the management’s hearts.

      • Apparently I was too subtle in my ironic comment. I thought I was in obvious support of your comment that enforcement is necessary.

  3. Why don’t we address prevailing wage laws which are other form of minimum wage for construction workers and cost the tax payers millions.