WASHINGTON: Public health emergency ends; some duties remain
COVID-19DisabilityLeave LawsSafety and Health
Governor Jay Inslee ended the COVID-19 public health emergency for the state of Washington on October 31, 2022, but employers still have some obligations under state law. As we previously reported, the continuing requirements for COVID-19 (coronavirus) stem from Washington’s Health Emergency Labor Standards Act (HELSA) and from an ongoing obligation to provide a workplace that is free from recognized hazards.
Current requirements include keeping employees who have tested positive or are symptomatic away from the workplace for at least five days in compliance with Department of Health isolation guidelines; notification of workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace; anti-discrimination rules against high-risk workers seeking accommodations for COVID; and protecting employees’ right to wear masks in the workplace.
Tips: For the most part, this means that employees who need to be absent due to COVID-19 no longer have separate protections independent of other protected leaves (such as Paid Sick Leave, Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML), and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)). However, keep in mind that under Washington’s expansive definition of a disability, COVID-19 may be considered a temporary disability requiring a reasonable accommodation. In addition, disciplining employees who are absent due to COVID-19 may be at odds with your obligation to keep people with COVID-19 out of the workplace. For questions, review Vigilant’s updated Legal Guide, At a Glance: COVID-19 Compliance in Washington, and consult with your Vigilant Law Group employment attorney.