Washington governor mandates new COVID-19 protections for “high-risk” workers

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee has added job protections for vulnerable employees working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a proclamation signed Monday, Inslee outlines new protections to “high-risk” workers who are more susceptible to severe illness or death from COVID-19: people over 65 and people of any age who have certain chronic underlying health conditions.

Citing his emergency powers under RCW 43.06.220(1)(h), which form the basis of the state of emergency Inslee issued on Feb. 29, the governor requires all public and private employers to provide accommodations to high-risk workers to protect against their exposure to coronavirus on the job.

Inslee’s proclamation prohibits employers from taking four types of action against high-risk workers.

  1. If a high-risk worker requests accommodation, the employer must exhaust all options to create alternative work arrangements, including telework, alternative or remote work locations, reassignment, and social distancing measures.
  2. If an alternative work arrangement is not feasible, an employer can’t prevent the worker from using available leave or unemployment insurance.
  3. If a worker’s paid time off runs out while they are on leave, an employer must maintain all health insurance benefits until the worker is eligible to return to work.
  4. Employers can’t punish workers for exercising their rights under the this proclamation in a way that would result in them being permanently replaced.

Inslee prohibits any job contracts that contradict the proclamation through at least June 12.

If your employer hasn’t taken the necessary steps to accommodate your situation or ensure your safety, call Emery Reddy. You won’t get better advice.

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