Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGLO 1971 No. 44 -
Attorney General Slade Gorton

- - - - - - - - - - - - -
                                                                  March 17, 1971
Honorable Charles D. Kilbury
State Representative, District 16-B
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington 98501
                                                                                            Cite as:  AGLO 1971 No. 44 (not official)
Dear Sir:
            By letter dated March 15, 1971, you inquired as to the scope of the term "wage" as defined in RCW 49.46.010 (2), and as used in chapter 49.48 RCW.
            Your first question is whether the term "wage" as defined in RCW 49.46.010 (2), would include ". . . all benefits accruing as a result of a labor contract or an employment contract."  We would think not, for the reason that this statutory definition is limited to those forms of compensation for employment services which are ". . . payable in legal tender or equivalent."  See, State ex rel. Hagan v. Chinook Hotel, 65 Wn.2d 573, 578, 399 P.2d 8 (1965).  The statutory definition which was thus construed reads, itself, as follows:
            "(2) 'Wage' means compensation due to an employee by reason of his employment, payable in legal tender of the United States or checks on banks convertible into cash on demand at full face value, subject to such deductions, charges, or allowances as may be permitted by regulations of the director under RCW 49.46.050."  (Emphasis supplied.)
            On the other hand, we would assume that the concept of ". . . all benefits accruing as a result of a labor contract or an employment contract" to which you have referred in your letter would include, conceivably, numerous types of so-called "fringe" benefits or emoluments of a particular employment which are not ". . . payable in legal tender" or equivalent.
            Your second question, as we understand it, is whether the definition of "wage" as set forth in RCW 49.46.010 (2), supra, is applicable for the purposes of  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] chapter 49.48 RCW.  Unfortunately, you have not identified any particular portions of this RCW chapter in connection with this question.
            Chapter 49.48 RCW codifies various statutes which are derived from several different session law sources; e.g., § 1, chapter 128, Laws of 1888, and subsequent amendments, prohibiting the payment of "wages," under certain circumstances, by means of an instrument (other than cash) which is not negotiable or redeemable at its face value, without discount, in cash or on demand;1/ §§ 1-5, chapter 96, Laws of 1935, establishing procedures for the recovery of "wages" wrongfully withheld; §§ 1 and 2, chapter 32, Laws of 1909, pertaining to wage assignments; and § 2, chapter 139, Laws of 1939, regarding the payment of "wages due" to an employee upon his death.

            Moreover, while each of these various statutes presently codified in chapter 49.48 RCW uses the term "wage" or "wages," none of these statutes in question contain any express definitions of these terms.  Therefore, as used therein, the terms "wage" and "wages" are simply subject to being given their common, ordinary meaning, consistent with the well-established principle that words used in a statute are to be given their usual and ordinary meaning in the absence of some express definition or other indication to the contrary.  Accord, State v. Roadhs, 71 Wn.2d 705, 430 P.2d 586 (1967), and cases cited therein.
            However, notably, this "common, ordinary" meaning of "wage" or "wages" is actually somewhat broader than is the statutory definition of "wage" appearing in RCW 49.46.010 (2), supra.  See, e.g., Pacific American Fisheries v. United States, 138 F.2d 464, 465 (1943), wherein it was stated that, generally, the term "wages" means compensation for labor or services, which may be in the form of money paid or other value given, such as board, lodging or clothes.
            Manifestly, the statutory definition of "wage" which appears in RCW 49.46.010 (2) is limited in applicability to the chapter in which it is contained ‑ for the section of that chapter which includes this (among other) definition is preceded by the limiting clause "as used in this chapter:  . . ."
            However, before attempting to advise you as to whether the term "wage" as used in one of the several independent sets of statutes codified in chapter 49.48 RCW includes any particular ". . . benefits accruing  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] as a result of a labor contract or an employment contract," we would have to have an identification of both the specific statutory provisions in question and the nature and description of the benefits being claimed or otherwise involved.  Therefore, if you would care to have us give further consideration to this question, it will be necessary that you advise us to this effect.
            It is hoped that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
Philip H. Austin
Deputy Attorney General
                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/We are enclosing herewith copies of several prior opinions dealing with this act, for your use and information.