Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a serious virus affecting people around the world, including Washington state. In King County alone during the first week of March 2021, there were a reported 162 new cases bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases to 84,490 since the start of the pandemic. Snohomish County had 50 new cases, bringing the total number of cases to 31,131.
Employers face serious concerns related to coronavirus. Washington state employer rights do exist even during a pandemic. However, whether it is the largest employers in Washington state or smaller employers, there are certain coronavirus requirements that must be followed. These are not the CDC's best practices. The Department of Labor & Industries set forth requirements that must be followed for both at will employment in Washington and for employment involving contracts if individuals are working within a building together.
As an employer, Washington state employer rights may protect you if you have employees who do not abide by the following requirements provided that you are also adhering to the appropriate measures within the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In this blog post, you will learn more about the COVID-19 prevention requirements set for Washington employers. If you have questions about your rights as an employer or Washington employment laws and how they affect your business, schedule a free consultation with the Law Offices of Alesha Struthers.
Washington employers must engage in social distancing for both employees and customers to help protect against COVID-19. Additionally, whether you offer at will employment or contract positions, you may not fire, demote, or retaliate against an employee who brings a safe and health concern to your awareness or against someone who files a safety and health complaint against your business. You may also not retaliate against an employee who is participating in a DOSH investigation.
Washington state employer rights include separating work stations, moving meetings or tasks to times or locations when there will be fewer individuals, taking certain actions to prevent close contact between workers, staggering work schedules to prevent crowding, and controlling the number of individuals entering. You may also stagger breaks and lunches, and use online meetings.
Washington employers are required to have an adequate number of fixed or portable handwashing stations so that their employees can frequently wash their hands. These stations must have both cold and hot water, soap, and towels. These stations must have the trash emptied on a regular basis and kept properly supplied.
As an employer, you have both responsibilities according to the Department of Labor & Industries and rights according to both the state and the federal government, even if you have one or more employees covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. First, let's discuss what's required of you from the Department of Labor & Industries.
Ensure that your business has a policy in place that requires employees who are sick to stay home or go home if they say they are sick or if they look sick. If you notice that an employee has COVID-19 symptoms, ensure they are isolated away from other employees as well as customers. Make sure that your cleaning guidelines adhere to the standards set by the CDC if you have an employee with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection. Ensure that all of your other employees stay away from any area of your establishment that is being cleaned and sanitized.
According to the state, Washington state employer rights include conducting daily COVID-19 symptom checks of employees, contractors, suppliers, customers, and visitors who are entering the building.
The Americans with Disabilities Act is not violated by an employer requesting that a note from a doctor before returning to work. Remember that this note is not asking anything related to the condition for which the employee is covered by the ADA. It is stating that because the employee exhibited COVID-19 symptoms and was not at work, they are now well enough to return to work and that they are not positive for COVID-19.
Just as Washington employers must display posters for various workplace hazards, they must also provide COVID-19 education for their employees in a language that their employees can easily understand. This information must include the signs, symptoms, and risk factors of COVID-19; explain how to prevent the spread of the virus; emphasize the importance of handwashing and the proper handwashing technique; and proper respiratory technique.
Not all Washington employers are required to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees. According to the Department of Labor & Industries, PPE "may be helpful when social distancing and other protective measures are infeasible or not effective." If your business cannot embrace social distancing because of your industry, PPE may be necessary. If other types of preventative measures have been used and have not worked well for your business, PPE may then be necessary.
Despite the pandemic, the show must go on. If you are a Washington employer and you have questions about your rights or about Washington employment law, the Law Offices of Alesha Struthers is here to help you. Schedule a free consultation now!
Disclaimer: This publication is not legal advice. It is intended as legal information only. For legal advice specific to your needs, contact the Law Offices of Alesha Struthers, PS at 800-972-0411.
Posted March 2021