Why L&I? When and how employers can reach out to Labor & Industries

Why L&I? When and how employers can reach out to Labor & Industries Main Photo

27 Oct 2022


When employers (like you) read “L&I,” there’s a good chance you do a little internal groan. The requirements and regulations around Labor & Industries can feel like a lot to take in.

The good people at L&I realize that, and they have two messages for employers: First, yes, they know this is not your favorite topic, and, second, they really, truly are here to help you navigate through the many programs that fall under the L&I umbrella.

The ground covered by L&I is vast and varied, says Celia Nightingale, the manager of L&I’s Small Business Office. Essential employer functions L&I oversees are safety and health, wage and hours laws, workers compensation insurance and injury claims, and contractor registration. 

With such a broad range of oversight, she says it’s no wonder employers feel intimidated. 

“I think the other piece of the intimidation employers feel is related to the consequences of not complying,” Nightingale said.

She acknowledges that it’s a hard hit for employers who are fined when they didn’t realize they were out of compliance (and would have complied had they known), which is why it’s vitally important for employers to proactively seek out that information.

Nightingale says it’s also important for employers to understand L&I is the enforcement arm of workplace laws. “The laws that we are administering are laws passed by the legislature, not [rules created by] L&I.”

It is assumed employers know the mandatory regulations written into the law, Nightingale said, but unless you’ve got the time and inclination to dive into reading the applicable Washington Administrative Codes (and who does?), employers need to find another way to stay informed.

L&I’s small business staff offer resources, including the people, tools and trainings employers need to stay in compliance with state law. The office’s role is education and not compliance, so employers need not fear getting fined for bringing up a concern.

“We do not want people learning about L&I law through compliance actions,” Nightingale said. “For example, a much preferred way to learn about safety and health requirements is to have an L&I consultant come in.”

Scheduling a consultation with one of their experts is an excellent place to start, she said. These consultations are no-fee – and confidential. Findings are not reported to compliance officers or to a company’s competitors. If violations are found, L&I works with employers to figure out solutions and a timeline to get the business into compliance. This offers businesses an opportunity to fix problems before they might be inspected, when L&I won’t have the latitude to give employers time to correct issues.

Nightingale said she has been nothing but impressed with her safety and health colleagues at L&I: “There are some really smart and helpful people who are eager to share their expertise. They are truly experts.” 

L&I’s website is a wealth of information for employers as well. For instance, if you are a new employer who need to prepare to meet paid sick leave requirements, L&I has sample language for optional sick leave policies as well as spelling out mandatory provisions, such as a written notice to employees regarding sick leave law and monthly notice of sick leave accrual. Paid Sick Leave (wa.gov)

The website also provides information regarding minimum wage and overtime laws, and the small business staff who are available to help you understand what those laws mean for your business.

Workers’ compensation insurance also falls under the L&I umbrella. 

“L&I’s workers’ comp group is effectively an insurance agency,” Nightingale explains. It employs actuaries to set rates based on history and predictive modeling of the nature of the work, the frequency of injuries in that line of work and the severity of those injuries (among other criteria). 
Employers submit quarterly premium payments to cover these costs. If a business falls behind in the payments, the small business liaisons can help get the business on a path to repayment.

L&I also covers the injury claims process. Having a basic understanding of this process, before the unexpected happens, can offer peace of mind to employers. Again, L&I offers a multitude of information on its website, at Injured Worker? What You Need to Know (wa.gov). L&I has a Preferred Worker program, and a Stay at Work program, which can help fund wages, training and other needs affiliated with an employer bringing an injured employee back to work in a light duty job. Employer Incentives (wa.gov)

There’s so much more to what L&I does – from food truck inspections to contractor licensing. To get a full picture of L&I’s programs and services, visit its website, lni.wa.gov. Check out the “Business” section on the home page to get started, and also check its array of trainings offered at the Workshops and Training Center. To reach the Small Business Office, email SmallBusiness@Lni.wa.gov or call 1-800-987-1045.