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Aug 06, 2020

WASHINGTON: Governor updates protections for high-risk workers

COVID-19Employee BenefitsSafety and Health 

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has further extended employment protections for medically vulnerable workers for as long as the current state of emergency lasts due to COVID-19 (coronavirus). In addition, the new proclamation (20-46.2) and accompanying guidance memo clarify who is protected and change the circumstances under which employers may request medical verification from these workers. The original proclamation (20-46) and subsequent extension (20-46.1) required employers to use “all available options for alternative work assignments to protect high-risk employees, if requested, from exposure” to the virus and to grant protected time off and maintain medical benefits.

At increased risk: Workers who are at least age 65 or who have medical conditions defined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) which put them “at increased risk” for severe illness from COVID-19 are automatically covered by the new proclamation and employers cannot ask for medical verification of their condition. The CDC says these medical conditions are:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
  • Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher)
  • Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus

Might be at increased risk: The CDC also has a list of conditions that might put workers at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. The governor’s order protects these people too if, based on an individual assessment of the employee’s medical circumstances and workplace conditions, the employee is actually at increased risk. According to the governor’s new guidance, if workers with these conditions ask for a workplace accommodation or time off, employers may ask for medical verification that they’re in fact at increased risk of severe illness from the virus. According to the CDC, people with the following conditions might be at increased risk:

  • Asthma (moderate to severe)
  • Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines
  • Neurologic conditions, such as dementia
  • Liver disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues)
  • Smoking
  • Thalassemia (a type of blood disorder)
  • Type 1 diabetes mellitus

The governor’s guidance also notes that you may ask for medical certification of the need for leave if a state or federal law, collective bargaining agreement, or contract requires such medical verification.

Tips: For details on your duty to accommodate at-risk employees in Washington, see our previous articles from April and June 2020. Any such accommodation discussions must be initiated by the employee. Contact your Vigilant Law Group employment attorney with any specific questions or concerns.

This website presents general information in nontechnical language. This information is not legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific management decision, consult legal counsel.

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