Agricultural Employment is Essential – Ready Your Work Force for Continued Operations in the Face of COVID-19

Mar 20, 2020

By Aviva Kamm and Dustin E. Yeager | Related Practices: Agriculture and Employment

Download a template for a letter employees can use for travel
Download a template for a letter explaining agriculture industry exemption
Download a template for a letter explaining exemption in Spanish

As businesses around the state move to remote work or shutter operations, we know many of you are trying to figure out how to stay open and get your operations set for the growing season ahead. Agriculture is considered part of our country’s essential critical infrastructure, and therefore must keep operating even in these unprecedented conditions.Farm in Yakima

Prepare your workforce for a shelter-in-place order

Several states have already ordered citizens to shelter in place. Washington has not yet ordered all citizens to do so. Make sure your workforce understands that because of their role keeping America fed, they are expected to come to work even if such an order issues. Give employees a letter notifying them of their continued duty to report to work unless they have COVID-19 symptoms or have had close contact with someone who has those symptoms. Also give employees a letter to carry with them and present to government officials if they are stopped during their commute. Attached to this message are templates you can customize for your company. Our firm is in the progress of translating these templates into Spanish and will post downloadable versions here as soon as they are ready.

Prepare to provide emergency paid sick leave and emergency expanded FMLA

Read our summary here of employer obligations under the bill enacted this week. Employers with fewer than 500 employees must pay employees sick leave and FMLA in qualifying circumstances, and will be reimbursed through tax credits from the federal government. These benefits do apply to workers in critical infrastructure – the only exception is for healthcare providers and emergency responders.

Protect your workers and workplace from the spread of infection

Even though you are still operating, this situation is far from “business as usual.” Critical infrastructure companies must make business decisions to appropriately balance public safety while ensuring the continued delivery of critical infrastructure services and functions. As of this writing, on March 20, 2020, appropriate precautions include the following:
  • Daily, on arrival at work, screen employees for symptoms of the coronavirus or close contact with a known case of the virus. Any employee with a fever above 100, persistent cough, or shortness of breath, or who has been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 must be sent home.
  • Provide handwashing stations or alcohol-based sanitizer throughout the workplace
  • Instruct employees to maintain at least 6 feet of distance from others whenever possible
  • When employees must work more closely than 6 feet apart, try to reduce the duration of that to less than 10 minutes
  • Sanitize high-traffic areas regularly (bathrooms, doorknobs, shared equipment)
  • Whenever possible, have workers use private transportation and/or have workers leave an empty seat between them when driving around the farm or from one orchard to another.
  • If possible, keep workers in the same work crews for multiple days to further minimize risk of cross-contamination
Contact your lawyer at Stokes Lawrence Velikanje Moore and Shore with compliance questions. We will meet these challenging times together.

Sarah Wixson, Brendan Monahan, Dustin Yeager, Charissa Johnston, Aviva Kamm