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Bellingham Joins Other Washington Cities in Setting Its Own Higher Minimum Wage



Effective May 1, 2024, nonexempt employees working within the city limits of Bellingham must be paid at least $17.28 per hour—a dollar more than the state minimum wage requirement.

In the November 2023 election, Bellingham voters approved a city ordinance that, when fully phased in, will result in a Bellingham minimum wage that is $2.00 higher than the state minimum wage. The ordinance applies to all employers, regardless of the employer’s size.

For the phase-in period, the 2024 Bellingham Minimum Wage will be $1.00 greater than the state’s minimum wage, or $17.28. For 2025, the Bellingham minimum wage will be $2.00 higher than the 2025 state minimum wage beginning May 1, 2025. Beginning in 2026 and every year thereafter, the Bellingham minimum wage will be $2.00 higher than the state minimum wage as of January 1 of that year.

Bellingham’s higher minimum wage is wage is applicable “to all hours worked by employees within the geographic boundaries of the city of Bellingham.”

Like the recent Tukwila and Renton minimum wage ordinances, the Bellingham ordinance provides that any adverse action occurring within 90 days after an employee seeks to exercise rights under the ordinance will be presumed to be retaliation. Likewise, the Bellingham ordinance provides for a private cause of action for individuals or classes of employees for five years following an alleged breach in which the employee(s) can recover actual or statutory damages and attorney fees.

Unlike the Tukwila and Renton ordinances, however, the Bellingham ordinance does not explicitly exclude time an employee spends just driving through the city or stopping to refuel or eating while traveling through the city. It is possible the city will issue regulations or guidelines to clarify this ambiguity.

In addition to the private cause of action for individuals or classes of employees, the Bellingham ordinance also empowers the city to issue penalties of $500-$1,000 per employee per pay period for failure to comply.

The ordinance does not apply to employees of the city, or to employees who are entirely exempt from the state minimum wage act (e.g., salaried exempt managers).

Key Takeaways for Employers

  • Employers with employees working any hours within the city limits of Bellingham need to be ready to pay at least $17.28 per hour by May 1, 2024.
  • Employers who have minimum wage employees who may only occasionally work within the Bellingham city limits (e.g., a driver who delivers product to stores both inside and outside the city limits) will need to decide whether they will track time worked inside and outside the city and pay the time differently, or whether they will simply pay the higher wage rate for all the employee’s hours.
  • Finally, employers with Bellingham employees will need to update their record retention policies and practices to be sure they are retaining pay records for at least five years.

The legal issues impacting workplaces are ever changing (Employment Law in Motion!), and since publication, new or additional information not referenced in this blog post may be available.

This article is provided for informational purposes only—it does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the firm and the reader. Readers should consult legal counsel before taking action relating to the subject matter of this article.

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