Workers’ comp inspectors have become “Covid cops” during the pandemic

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The Washington state agency that typically spends a great deal of time investigating employment issues like wage theft or workers’ compensations fraud has shifted its focus in recent months to combat another type of problem: making sure employers are protecting their workers and customers from coronavirus.

A group of about 20 of these so-called Covid cops carry out undercover “spot checks” at as many as 200 Washington businesses on a daily basis, according to KUOW.

“We walk into Safeway like we’re a customer,” Tim Church, spokesperson for the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) told KUOW.

The state inspectors follow up on thousands of complaints from the public about businesses that are allegedly failing to enforce state-mandated safety rules like making workers properly wear masks, stand six feet apart or wash hands.

If the safety lapse persists after a spot check, a formal inspection and investigation may be launched, Church said. If that doesn’t spur the employer to action, L&I sends a “cease and desist” letter, or levies a fine.

“It’s a fairly small number that end up in the ‘taking formal action’ category,” Church said. “Most do what we need them to do if they spend time with us.”

  • Bradshaw Development (Anytime Fitness): $38,556. Three Anytime Fitness gyms in Yakima county were found open on July 15 despite public health orders to remain closed amid the acute outbreak there.
  • Flower World: $4,200. The floral shop in Maltby, WA told workers and customers in June they would not have to wear masks.
  • King County Metro: $2,700. Bus drivers complained on March 31 of insufficient cleaning, social distancing, protective equipment and fever screening. Metro is now installing plexiglass screens next to drivers on some buses, limiting the number of passengers aboard each bus and requiring them to enter through the rear doors to avoid contact with bus drivers, hiring new cleaning staff and plans to install temperature-screening kiosks for employees.
  • American Seafoods: $1,800. Workers were not consistently required to wear masks, according to a June 8 complaint. Since late May, at least 110 crew members on three of the company’s factory trawlers have contracted Covid-19.

A KUOW public records request found 377 complaints about alleged violations of pandemic safety rules in King and Pierce counties. Nearly one-third of those complaints were against the construction industry.

“It’s not as visible in most other workplaces,” said Mandi Kime, safety director for the construction-industry group Associated General Contractors of Washington. “If somebody’s driving by a construction site, they’ll see if people are wearing masks or not.”

L&I inspectors found violations at 12 of the construction companies, nearly half of all violations in the two counties.

If you have a workers’ compensation, L&I, or other employment law claim, contact Emery Reddy for a free consultation. You won’t get better advice.

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