Next month the $15 minimum wage in Seattle becomes reality for the first wave of workers, while in most other parts of the state the minimum wage will jump to $11.

Seattle’s minimum-wage law, passed by the City Council and signed by the mayor in 2014, gradually raises the minimum wage each year until it reaches $15 for all workers by 2021. It gives small employers more time than large ones to reach that $15 pay rate.

Starting Jan. 1, large employers in Seattle that have 501 or more workers and do not pay toward medical benefits must pay their employees at least $15 an hour. Large employers that do pay toward medical benefits will pay $13.50.

Small employers with 500 or fewer workers must pay $13, or $11 an hour if they pay toward medical benefits or if the employee earns tips.

Washington state’s minimum wage, meanwhile, rises 16 percent from the current $9.47 an hour to $11 starting Jan. 1, thanks to Initiative 1433. That measure, which voters statewide approved in November, is to raise the minimum wage over four years to $13.50 by 2020.

The statewide law does not differentiate between large and small employers. The minimum-wage jump will apply to all workers, including those in agriculture, who are at least 18 years old.

Workers under 16 years old can be paid 85 percent of the adult minimum wage, or $9.35 per hour, in 2017, according to the state’s Department of Labor and Industries.

The department says it received some 1,500 calls in November — far more than usual — from employers seeking clarity on details of the law.

The department has been working to get the word out, including through Spanish-language radio stations and through other state agencies. It also has an employment-standards information line for people with questions: 866-219-7321.

Among the issues causing the most confusion is how the new state minimum wage works in cities with higher minimum wages. In cities that have higher minimums, such as Seattle, SeaTac and Tacoma, the local city laws apply.

The minimum wage for hospitality and transportation workers in SeaTac goes up to $15.35 in January, while the wage for workers in Tacoma goes up to $11.15.

Initiative 1433 also calls for employers to provide paid sick leave, but that portion of the law doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2018.


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