The basic criteria for becoming living wage certified is that an employer pays at least the current living wage rate to all full and part time employees. 

The Living Wage Rate:

The Living Wage rate for Buncombe County in 2021 is $17.30/hr or $15.80/hr with employer provided health insurance.

The Buncombe County Living Wage Rate for 2020 was $15.50/hour without qualifying employer provided health insurance, or $14.00/hour with employer provided health insurance. 

For Rural WNC counties, the Living Wage Rate is $13.00/hour.

*Some Living Wage Certified businesses have applied for an extended timeline to adjust to the living wage rate due to COVID-19. Just Economics is in touch with these businesses about adjusting wages within a set time frame.

At the discretion of Just Economics, any employer may be rejected for living wage certification, have certification revoked or temporarily suspended for health and safety violations, violations of worker’s rights, harassment or other labor concerns.

Just Economics may take action even if an employer pays a living wage if the business is conducted in ways that are not in alignment with the mission, vision and/or goals of Just Economics, that could damage the value of the Living Wage Certification program, or reflects poorly on Just Economics and the other businesses in the network.

If an employer’s certification comes into question, Just Economics will request a dialogue with the intent of reaching a resolution.

Just Economics will not approve or deny an application by an employer while there is a known and active employee organizing effort or collective bargaining labor dispute. Any application that is submitted during an active and known organizing campaign or collective bargaining labor dispute will be held by Just Economics until the organizing campaign, negotiations, or collective bargaining disputes are resolved.

We recognize that there are different types of employees, employers, and compensation and have made the following clarifications:

Some exceptions:

The certification program has some exceptions for apprentices, minors under 18 working part-time, interns, and temporary-project based employees.  Also, employees in a probationary or training period not to exceed the first 90 days of employment are exempt from the wage criteria.

1099 contractors:

Our basic criteria is formulated for W-2 employees, however  some business types rely on the use of 1099 ’employees’.  If you pay 1099 workers to carry out the main aspect of your business and pay them an hourly rate, we have special requirements to ensure that the tax liability of these workers is taken into consideration when determining a living wage.  If you are using independent contractors for professional services such as accountants or lawyers, or if you are contracting with a service for a specific job such as a janitorial service that cleans your office, this information is unnecessary in determining your eligibility for certification.

Employees that receive tips, commission, or alternative means of compensation besides an hourly rate:

Our goal is to make sure that employees are consistently making a living wage when you combine their base wage with other forms of monetary compensation like tips, commission, etc.  If your employees are consistently making a living wage when the other forms of compensation are considered, your business is eligible for certification but will require additional follow up by Just Economics’ staff.

Other considerations in determining the wage criteria:

A living wage is meant to be what an employee needs to meet their basic needs without public or private assistance. We consider a few subtractions to the wage criteria only if they are contributing to basic needs of food, healthcare, transportation, or housing. We also offer an adjustment to the wage criteria for meals. We have formulas for determining eligibility for using any of these subtractions. Requests for subtractions are approved by the Certification Committee and Board of Directors to determine final determinations on eligibility. 

We have two different wage rates based on whether an employee receives qualifying healthcare from their employer. Health benefits are defined as including catastrophic coverage. If an employer offers a health benefit that does not provide catastrophic coverage, like a monthly membership, they can qualify for a reduced subtraction.

In total, wage subtractions cannot exceed $1.50/ per hour.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Do part time employees count?

Yes,  Just Economics does not differentiate wage rates for part-time versus full-time employees.  We look at our wage rate as a more just minimum than the minimum wage.  The formula is based on what a worker would need to make if they were to work full time but do not make exceptions to the wage criteria for part-time employees.

How is the wage rate determined?

We use the Universal Living Wage formula to determine and adjust our wage rate.  For more on this formula click here for Wage Rate.

Do you take into account non-monetary benefits such as employee discounts, into consideration?

The idea of a living wage is that a full time worker could meet their basic needs without public or private assistance.  We consider adjustments to the wage criteria that are impact basic needs.  We consider basic needs to be housing, food, transportation, and healthcare.  We certainly applaud and encourage other non-monetary benefits such as retirement, free passes, or employee discounts, but we consider what an employee needs to make in order to meet their basic needs.  While we view childcare as a basic need for people with children and we strongly support accommodations for childcare, our formula is based on a single individuals needs and we don’t subtract from the wage criteria for this benefit.

What else does Just Economics do?

The Living Wage Employer Certification is one program of Just Economics that helps us work toward our mission of educating, advocating, and organizing for a just and sustainable local economy.  For more on how this program fits into our mission and what else we do, click here for a bit About Us.

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