Governor Jay Inslee recently issued two proclamations (20-25.5 and 20-25.6), extending Safe Start until August 6, 2020, expanding face covering requirements, and requiring Washington employers to report confirmed or suspected COVID-19 (coronavirus) cases. Although the public has been required to wear face coverings in almost all situations since June 26, the latest proclamation says that as of July 7, businesses must turn away customers, clients, and guests who refuse to wear face coverings on the premises. Both proclamations put the burden on employers to cooperate with public health authorities, implement infection control measures, and comply with all state-issued orders and agency rules and guidance, including those regarding face coverings. The proclamation doesn’t change the prior requirement that employees wear face coverings when working, except when working alone or when the job involves no in-person interaction.
A new requirement introduced in the 20-25.6 proclamation is that “No employer may operate, unless it notifies the employer’s local health jurisdiction within 24 hours if the employer suspects COVID-19 is spreading in the employer’s workplace, or if the employer is aware of 2 or more employees who develop confirmed or suspected COVID-19 within a 14-day period” (emphasis added). The proclamation doesn’t define “suspected COVID-19” nor does it indicate if employers should consider 14-day periods prior to July 7.
Tips: If you’re unsure whether to report suspected cases or those that happened before the July 7, 2020, effective date of the latest proclamation, err on the side of reporting. For face coverings, follow the recently updated Safe Start Washington plan and prominently post a sign at all public entrances requiring customers to wear cloth facial coverings. Prepare your employees to respectfully turn away customers, clients, and guests who refuse to wear them. Washington’s Order of the Secretary of Health 20-03 (Face Coverings – Statewide) is still in effect for individuals, so customers with a qualifying medical condition may legitimately say they’re exempt from the requirement to wear face coverings. However, the governor’s latest proclamation doesn’t provide an avenue for businesses to allow them to enter the business without a face covering.
If someone says they have a qualifying medical condition, or if you’re concerned about the perception of turning away clients or customers, consider offering an accommodation, such as a virtual meeting, pick-up service, or free delivery of product samples. For their own safety, instruct employees not to get into arguments or physical confrontations with non-complying customers. Have a plan for how to handle such a situation, and communicate it to your workers. To determine when and what face coverings to require at work, use the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I)’s Coronavirus Hazard Considerations for Employers Face Coverings, Masks, and Respirator Choices and Which Mask for Which Task?, or reach out to your Vigilant safety professional.