Washington Sales Representatives’ Commissions Statutes
Independent manufacturers’ sales representatives are typically hired by manufacturers, distributors, and importers to solicit orders for their products from potential customers in designated territories in exchange for a sales commission. Such sales representatives often spend many months or years building up a customer base in their assigned territory and incur substantial up-front sales and marketing expenses that can include travel, lodging, entertainment, and trade show expenses with the hope of generating a stream of future commission income. The sales representative is vulnerable if the principal suddenly terminates their relationship and/or fails to pay all commissions owed to the sales rep.
In response to these concerns, starting in the 1980s and 1990s, many states enacted statutes to protect the interests of these independent manufacturers’ sales representatives. These statutes often:
• Require the sales representative agreement to be in writing;
• Require the principal to provide a copy of the written contract to the sales rep;
• Require the principal to pay the sales rep for all commissions owed promptly following termination (or incur liability for statutory penalties, attorney’s fees, and court costs);
• Strictly limit the circumstances under which the principal can terminate, or fail to renew, a sales representative agreement (e.g., requiring the manufacturer to have “good cause” for termination); and/or
• Prohibit the principal from imposing terms (such as choice of law or exclusive venue provisions) in the sales rep agreement that would effectively require the sales rep to waive its statutory protections under the law.
Thirty-five of the fifty states have enacted some form of sales rep protection legislation.
This article sets forth the text of Washington’s laws protecting independent manufacturers’ sales representatives, as of January 1, 2023.
The Washington Sales Representative Act
Washington Statutes, 49.48.150
Unless the context clearly requires otherwise, the definitions in this section apply throughout RCW 49.48.160 through 49.48.190.
(1) “Commission” means compensation paid a sales representative by a principal in an amount based on a percentage of the dollar amount of certain orders for or sales of the principal’s product. Commission includes bonus payments under an incentive compensation plan or other agreement between a principal and sales representative.
(2) “Principal” means a person, whether or not the person has a permanent or fixed place of business in this state, who:
(a) Manufactures, produces, imports, or distributes a product for sale to customers who purchase the product for resale;
(b) Uses a sales representative to solicit orders for the product; and
(c) Compensates the sales representative in whole or in part by commission.
(3) “Sales representative” means a person who solicits, on behalf of a principal, orders for the purchase at wholesale of the principal’s product, but does not include a person who places orders for his or her own account for resale, or purchases for his or her own account for resale, or sells or takes orders for the direct sale of products to the ultimate consumer.
Washington Statutes, 49.48.160
(1) A contract between a principal and a sales representative under which the sales representative is to solicit wholesale orders within this state must be in writing and must set forth the method by which the sales representative’s commission is to be computed and paid. The principal shall provide the sales representative with a copy of the contract. A provision in the contract establishing venue for an action arising under the contract in a state other than this state, or establishing conditions for payment of a commission contrary to the provisions of this section, is void.
(2) When no written contract has been entered into, any agreement between a sales representative and a principal is deemed to incorporate the provisions of RCW 49.48.150 through 49.48.190.
(a) During the course of the contract, a sales representative shall be paid the earned commission and all other moneys earned or payable in accordance with the agreed terms of the contract, but no later than thirty days after receipt of payment by the principal for products or goods sold on behalf of the principal by the sales representative.
(b) Upon termination of a contract, whether or not the agreement is in writing, all earned commissions due to the sales representative shall be paid within thirty days after receipt of payment by the principal for products or goods sold on behalf of the principal by the sales representative, including earned commissions not due when the contract is terminated.
(c) Where a sales representative’s efforts prior to termination of a contract results in a sale, regardless of when the sale occurs, the termination may not affect whether a commission is considered earned.
(4) Failure to pay an earned commission is a wage payment violation under RCW 49.52.050.
Washington Statutes, 49.48.170
A principal shall pay wages and commissions at the usual place of payment unless the sales representative requests that the wages and commissions be sent through registered mail. If, in accordance with a request by the sales representative, the sales representative’s wages and commissions are sent through the mail, the wages and commissions are deemed to have been paid as of the date of their registered postmark.
Washington Statutes, 49.48.180
A principal who is not a resident of this state and who enters into a contract subject to RCW 49.48.150 through 49.48.190 is considered to be doing business in this state for purposes of the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the principal.
Washington Statutes, 49.48.190
(1) RCW 49.48.150 through 49.48.190 supplement but do not supplant any other rights and remedies enjoyed by sales representatives.
(2) A provision of RCW 49.48.150 through 49.48.190 may not be waived, whether by express waiver or by attempt to make a contract or agreement subject to the laws of another state. A waiver of a provision of RCW 49.48.150 through 49.48.190 is void.
Washington, like a majority of states, has enacted sales representative legislation. Manufacturers, distributors, and importers typically bear the burden of compliance with these statutes and should ensure that their contracts and activities are consistent with applicable law. Sales representatives may wish to review applicable laws to understand their rights. If the laws of multiple states are involved, compliance with the relevant law may become even more complicated, and legal advice from a Washington sales rep attorney may be appropriate.
If you are interested in the sales representative statutes of other states, click here to view our sales representative statute survey page.
About the Author
Craig W. Trepanier is a sales representative attorney who handles disputes under the Minnesota Termination of Sales Representatives Act and the laws of other jurisdictions. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 612.455.0502. Trepanier MacGillis Battina P.A. is a Minnesota sales representative law firm located in Minneapolis. If you need advice regarding your sales representative agreement, or are having a dispute regarding the termination, non-renewal, or modification of a sales rep agreement or unpaid commissions, please contact us. Mr. Trepanier can represent you in the State of Minnesota. If appropriate, we can co-counsel with an attorney in your jurisdiction to leverage our specialized knowledge of sales rep law.