What Does the End of Washington State's COVID-19 Emergency Declaration Mean for Employers?
After nearly three years, Governor Inslee’s COVID-19 Emergency Declaration will end on October 31, 2022.
The end of the emergency declaration means that all remaining COVID-19 emergency orders will also end, but employers are free to implement rules beyond what the law requires if they wish to do so. Employers should keep in mind that while the emergency declaration is ending, Washington’s Health Emergency Labor Standards Act (“HELSA”) will remain in effect.
HELSA is administered by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (“L&I”) and is codified at WAC 296-62-602-609. HELSA will remain in place until President Biden rescinds the federal COVID-19 public health emergency.
That means that for now, employers must continue to abide by HELSA, which requires non-healthcare employers to do the following:
- Report COVID-19 outbreaks to Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries: Employers with more than 50 employees at a workplace must notify L&I within 24 hours if they have ten or more employees who have tested positive for an infectious or contagious disease. For purposes of this requirement, the time frame starts when any two or more employees test positive within 14 calendar days and ends 28 days after the last positive test result. Employers must report by calling 1-800-4BE-SAFE.
- Notify employee of potential COVID-19 exposures: Employers must notify employees, union representatives, and employers of subcontracted employees of potential exposure to an infectious or contagious disease. Employees must be notified in writing within one business day if they were on the premises at the same worksite on the same day an employee may have been infectious or contagious. Employers should be sure to not include employee names or personally identifying information in their notifications.
- Accommodate high-risk workers: Employers are prohibited from discharge, replacement, or discrimination of high-risk employees for seeking accommodations or using leave to protect against an infectious or contagious disease.
- Accommodate voluntary personal protective equipment use: Employees and contractors must be permitted to voluntarily use personal protective equipment.
- Benefits: Frontline workers who contract an infectious or contagious disease are entitled to workers’ compensation wage replacement and medical benefits under a rebuttable presumption that exposure to the disease occurred on the job.
It’s important to note that HELSA is not limited to COVID-19—the law applies to any “infectious or contagious disease” subject to a state or national declaration of emergency. That means even after the federal COVID-19 emergency ends, the HELSA obligations could be automatically triggered by a future public health emergency involving an “infectious or contiguous disease.”