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Can I get unemployment if I quit my job because my employer doesn't pay me on time or give me bathroom or lunch breaks?

Tacoma, WA |

Almost every check my co-workers and I receive from our employer is NSF. My employer also does not pay us on time, she keeps our checks from us, and hides out for days around pay day to avoid paying us. Also we do not get bathroom breaks or lunches. If I report her and the business shuts down will my co-workers receive unemployment?

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Attorney answers 2


There are many ways you can address this. If you want to quit, and still get unemployment compensation you need to be careful what you do before you quit. To receive unemployment comp. in Washington after voluntarily quitting, you have to show good cause for quitting and that reason has to fall within the reasons listed in the statute. One example of good cause is: "The individual left work because of illegal activities in the individual's worksite, the individual reported such activities to the employer, and the employer failed to end such activities within a reasonable period of time." In your case you should report in writing to your employer the illegal things that the employer is allowing to happen (i.e., not allowing required rest breaks, requiring you to work through lunch breaks without pay, and failing to pay workers within time prescribed by law). The catch though is that the employer has to actually be violating the law for this exception to apply. For example, if you don't get lunch breaks but the employer pays you for that time, that's not illegal. If the employer pays you late, but still pays within the amount of time required by statute, that may not be illegal either. Once you report the illegalities in the work place (if there are in fact any) then you have to give the employer a reasonable period to fix the issues. If the issues aren't fixed after that period of time then you can quit and have a good argument of why you are entitled to benefits.

Another option is to report the wage and break violations to the Department of Labor and Industries (see link below). I suggest you review the information on their website before you do so to get a better idea of whether there has in fact been a violation. Its unlawful for your employer to fire you out of retaliation for filing such a claim so doing so would just get the employer in more trouble.

You should consult an employment law attorney in person or over the phone if you want more specific advice. Good luck!

Providing this general response does not create an attorney client relationship.


I agree with Mr. Hawkins that you may be eligible for unemployment benefits based on illegal activities in the workplace (you may be required to prove them at a hearing). However, I also believe that the employer's failure to pay you on time (ie, delays and NSF checks that don't clear) is tantamount to wrongful withholding of wages, which is illegal. Also, it is illegal to deny you rest periods and lunch breaks if you work for a certain length of shift, whether or not your employer is paying you to work right through them - these are potential wage and hour violations. You should immediately contact the Dept. of Labor and Industries about the conditions you are describing here.

As to whether you and your co-workers will be eligible to receive unemployment benefits even if the business shuts down, this may be partially dependent on whether your employer has been paying into the system on your behalf (this is legally required, but given some of the other alleged violations, you should not assume that this is the case.) Contact the Employment Security Department at There are other requirements, as well, so I agree with Mr. Hawkins that you should approach this situation cautiously and gather information before acting.

This does not constitute legal advice. You should consult an attorney who can assess the facts of your case and discuss your legal rights and obligations.