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AGO 1952 No. 364 - August 05, 1952
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

EMPLOYERS OF FEMALES AND MINORS ARE GOVERNED BY THE MINIMUM WAGE LAW AND ARE NOT ENTITLED, AS A MATTER OF RIGHT, TO NOTICE OF SUCH LAW BY THE INDUSTRIAL INSURANCE COMMISSION ‑- UPON TERMINATION OF EMPLOYMENT, AN EMPLOYEE IS ENTITLED TO BE PAID IN CASH OR BY ORDER REDEEMABLE IN CASH AND DEDUCTIONS OF ANY KIND ARE WITHIN THE BAN OF RCW 49.48.020

The legislature under its police power has authority to fix a minimum wage law for women and minors and the failure of the Industrial Insurance Commission to furnish employers with a copy of the Minimum Wage Law is not unconstitutional as depriving a person of life, liberty or property without due process of law.

Deductions for child care, meals and goods, wares or merchandise from the wages of an employee comes within the ban of RCW 49.48.020.

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                                                                  August 5, 1952

Honorable A. M. Johnson
Director
Department of Labor & Industries
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 364

Dear Mr. Johnson:

            We have your letter of July 24, 1952, requesting our opinion on the following question:

            "Could the care of children, meals provided and groceries purchased be withheld as a legal deduction as part of the computation of wages without a written agreement between the parties prior to the date of employment and further, would the statute of limitations apply?"

            You also inquire whether an employer would be relieved of liability for failure to comply with the Minimum Wage Order No. 46, effective January 23, 1950, where the Industrial Welfare Commission had neglected to furnish the employer with a copy of such order.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            Our conclusions may be summarized as follows:

            Under the provisions of Rem. Rev. Stat. § 7630 the requirement that the commission shall send by mailso far as practicable to each employer in the occupation in question a copy of the order, is not mandatory, and the failure of the commission to provide an employer with a copy of such order does not relieve the employer from liability in event of failure to comply with the order.

            Under the provisions of RCW 49.48.010 any laborer or workman who ceases work, whether by voluntary quit or discharge is entitled to have his wages paid immediately either incash or by order redeemable in cash at its face value and any violation of this section shall constitute a misdemeanor.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            RCW 49.48.010 provides in part as follows:

            "(1) It shall not be lawful for any person, firm or corporation, engaged in manufacturing, mining, railroading, constructing railroads, or any business or enterprise of whatsoever kind, to issue, pay out, or circulate for payment of wages, any order, check, memorandum, token, or evidence of indebtedness, payable in whole or in part otherwise than in lawful money of the United States, unless the same is negotiable and redeemable at its face value, without discount, in cash or on demand, at the store or other place of business of such person, firm, or corporation when issued, and the person who, or firm or company which, issues any such order, check, memorandum, token, or other evidence of indebtedness, shall upon presentation and demand redeem it in lawful money of the United States.

            "When any laborer performing work or labor ceases to work, whether by discharge or by voluntary withdrawal, the wages due must be paid forthwith either in cash or by order redeemable in cash at its face value on presentment at a bank, store, commissary, or other place in the county where the labor was  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] performed:  Provided, That such order may be made payable at a place in another county if more convenient of access to the employee."

            RCW 49.48.020 provides as follows:

            "Any person, or any officer or agent of a firm or a corporation, engaged in a business or enterprise mentioned in RCW 49.48.010, who issues or circulates in payment for wages any order, check, memorandum, token, or evidence of indebtedness, payable in whole or in part otherwise than in lawful money, and without being payable as required by RCW 49.48.010; or who fails to redeem the same when presented, in lawful money of the United States; or who compels or attempts to coerce any employee to purchase meals, lodging, goods, wares, merchandise, or supplies from any particular person, firm or corporation shall, on conviction, be fined in any sum not exceeding three hundred dollars, or upon failure to pay the fine and costs, be committed to the county jail until they are discharged as provided by law."  (Emphasis ours)

            We will answer your second inquiry first.  It is axiomatic that "ignorance of the law is no excuse."  While, under certain circumstances this maxim may be qualified, we do not feel in the instant case that qualification of the maxim is applicable.

            The employer is presumed to know the law insofar as it pertains to his business.  In the employment of female labor he is obliged to know the "Minimum Wage Law," or to avail himself of it.  That Rem. Rev. Stat. § 7630 provides that the commission shall send by mail so far as practicable to each employer in the occupation in question a copy of such order, the failure of the commission to do so does not relieve the employer of liability for failure to comply with its provisions.

            InSpokane Hotel Company v. Younger, 113 Wash. 359, the court on page 365 said:

            "* * * If the legislature may pass a law fixing a minimum wage and labor conditions for women and minors, it follows, as a matter of course, that  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] the legislature may authorize the commission to determine the facts upon which such law may become operative.  If personal notice must be given to employers before a minimum wage and working conditions for women, or minors may be established by the legislature or by a commission appointed for that purpose, then such law could not be made, because it would be almost if not utterly impossible to notify every employer of such labor within the state.  We are of the opinion that employers have no vested right to employ women or minors, and therefore are not entitled to notice as a matter of right.  The legislature, in the exercise of its police power, may take away whatever rights the employer has in that respect.  * * *"

            This brings us to the primary question of whether the care of children, meals provided and groceries furnished may be withheld as a legal deduction as part of the computation of wages without a written agreement between the parties prior to the date of employment.  Our answer to this question must be in the negative.

            InPillatos v. Hyde, 11 Wn. (2d) 403, the court, at page 407, said:

            "The statute plainly prohibits any person or corporation, engaged in any business or enterprise of whatsoever kind within this state from paying to any laborer who shall cease to work for such person or corporation the wages due in anything other than lawful money of the United States, or by an order or check payable in lawful money of the United States in the county where the labor was performed.

            "The contract in the case at bar comes within the ban of Rem. Rev. Stat. § 7594, which declares a rule of public policy in this state designed to protect wage earners who are employed in certain industries; and where an employer and his or its employee attempt to make a contract of employment in violation of the clearly expressed provision of the statute, the natural right of the employer and the employee to contract between themselves must, as stated in Burdette v. Broadview Dairy Co., 123  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] Wash. 158, 212 Pac. 181, yield to what the legislature has established as the law.  The statute is mandatory that wages be paid forthwith, on ceasing work, in lawful money of the United States or by order or check redeemable in cash at its face value in the county where the labor was performed."

            InLarson v. Rice, 100 Wash. 642, the court, on page 649, said:

            "It is undoubtedly a general rule that private controversies between individualssui juris may be compromised by them by mutual agreement, and that the courts will not, where no question of fraud intervenes, relieve from the agreement, even though it be shown that the one gained rights thereby to which he would not otherwise have been entitled and that the other gave up rights to which he was fully entitled; this, on the principle that compromises are favored by the law, since they tend to prevent strife and conduce to peace and to the general welfare of the community.  But the controversy here had an added element not found in the ordinary controversy between individuals.  It was not wholly of private concern.  It was affected with a public interest.  The state, having declared that a minimum wage of a certain amount is necessary to a decent maintenance of an employee engaged in the employment in which the respondent was engaged, has an interest in seeing that the fixed compensation is actually paid.  The statute making the declaration not only makes contracts of employment for less than the minimum wage void, but has sought to secure its enforcement by making it a penal offense on the part of the employer to pay less than the minimum wage, and by giving to the employee a right of action to recover the difference between the wage actually paid and such minimum wage.  The statute was not, therefore, intended solely for the benefit of the individual wage earner.  It was believed that the welfare of the public requires that wage earners receive a wage sufficient for their decent maintenance.  The statute being thus protective of the public as well as of the  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] wage earner, it must follow that any contract of settlement of a controversy arising out of a failure to pay the fixed minimum wage in which the state did not participate is voidable, if not void.  * * * "

            To the same effect isGoebel v. Elliott, 178 Wash. 444 and Parrish v. West Coast Hotel Company, 185 Wash. 581.  The cases first above cited hold that a contract of employment which contravenes the minimum wage law is void.

            If the antecedent contract of employment, express or implied contravenes the express provisions of the statute and was void, then the statute of limitations would not apply.  Booth v. Department of Labor and Industries, 189 Wash. 201.

            Inasmuch as we have no knowledge or information as to whether or not the child care and furnishing of meals was by agreement between the parties or voluntary on the part of the employer, we express no opinion on that phase of the matter.

            As to whether deductions could be made for these services, it is our opinion that the ban of RCW 49.48.010 and RCW 49.48.020 applies and a deduction for such services from the wages due is in violation of the statute.  This, however, does not relieve the employee from payment of the groceries actually purchased.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

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