Washington state bill aims to bolster COVID-19 protections, benefits for front line whistleblowers

Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/jarino47

In response to the growing list of front line workers fired or otherwise punished for raising concerns about workplace safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, state senator Karen Keiser is pushing for a worker protection law that will shield whistleblowers from vengeful employers.

Called the Health Emergency Labor Standards Act, or HELSA, the bill would apply to all front line workers in the state.

Keiser pointed to the Bellingham emergency room doctor who was fired from PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center after speaking up about inadequate ER preparations in late March.

“I find that totally inadequate,” Keiser told KIRO7 news. “It takes a real strength of will and fiber to put your hand up and say, ‘I object.’ Those people need to be protected.”

Washington state’s Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), which administers workers’ compensation claims among other duties, said that it fielded tens of thousands of safety complaints during a recent two-month period. L&I typically receives about 500 complaints every 60 days.

“That tells you the kind of anxiety and crisis situation we were dealing with,” Keiser told KIRO.

The HELSA bill will punish employers who retaliate or discriminate against workers who “raise reasonable concerns about infection control in the workplace,” according to a one-page breakdown of the bill. The bill will also bolster protections for front line workers to ensure paychecks for employees who fall ill and child care if their children’s schools close.

Keiser plans to introduce the new bill in the next legislative session which starts in January.

Emery Reddy helps workers. Call us if you have workers’ comp, wrongful termination, discrimination, L&I, or other employment law claim. You won’t get better advice.

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