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Inslee moves to protect high-risk workers, clarify L&I policies

OLYMPIA (April 14, 2020) — A month ago, Gov. Jay Inslee announced steps to protect workers impacted by the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, including urging leniency from the state Employment Security Department for those impacted by temporary layoffs, isolation and quarantine, and ordering the state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) to ensure workers’ compensation protections for healthcare workers and first responders on the front lines of the crisis.

On Monday, Inslee announced more protections for high-risk workers and clarified L&I policies for other essential workers and their employers.

First, he issued a proclamation giving high-risk workers the right to protect themselves from COVID-19 without jeopardizing their employment status or loss of income. It provides workers 65 years of age or older and workers of all ages with underlying health conditions a series of rights and protections, including:

●  The choice of an alternative work assignment, including telework, alternative or remote work locations if feasible, and social distancing measures.
●  The ability to use any accrued leave or unemployment benefits if an alternative work assignment is not feasible and the employee is unable to safely work. Employers must maintain health insurance benefits while high risk employees are off the job.
●  Employers are prohibited from permanently replacing high-risk employees.

“I remain very concerned about at-risk populations – older adults and people with underlying health conditions,” Inslee said. “This proclamation ensures vulnerable high-risk workers don’t have to endanger themselves for fear of losing their jobs or a paycheck.”

Also on Monday, Inslee issued a Memorandum to L&I Director Joel Sacks answering questions about how workers’ compensation will work for essential workers.

“While most Washingtonians are doing their part by staying home and staying healthy, many brave individuals are putting themselves in harm’s way simply by doing their job and serving our communities,” Inslee wrote. “When I announced that workers’ compensation would cover medical expenses and wage replacement during quarantine for COVID-19 exposures, I told these workers that we had their backs. As this crisis continues, it is important that we continue to show them that we do.”

Inslee made clear that when any essential workers face COVID-19 exposure on the job, L&I should pay medical and time-loss costs associated with the quarantine period — whether or not the individual ultimately contracts COVID-19. He also supported L&I’s plan to protect employers from the costs of such claims by ensuring they aren’t used to calculate their future workers’ compensation premiums.

“Spreading the cost of these claims across all industries is consistent with insurance principles for catastrophic circumstances and is also consistent with how we are fighting this — by working together to support both workers and businesses financially impacted by COVID-19,” Inslee wrote. “This is the right thing to do.”

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