This post includes important updates for workers and businesses in the creative industries. This information is from multiple sources, including the Washington State Joint Information team, King County Local Services and the City of Seattle.
- The Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) program remains in effect each week it remains federally funded. The LWA has paid more than $625M in benefits to more than 400K eligible claimants last week. The high volume has caused slight delays. Help to minimize delays by waiting until later in the week to log in and use eServices. Refer to the Employment Security Department website for details. Artists and others who are struggling with claims processing may find helpful info and support in this Artist-Trust-run Facebook group.
- The Unemployment Trust Fund health has improved, so no additional tax to businesses in 2021. An improved economic outlook projects that WA will not require federal funds to support its unemployment trust fund in 2021, and a proposed solvency tax of 0.2% will not be enacted for 2021. This will save Washington businesses nearly $200 million next year. The complete Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund Forecast report for September will be released on Oct. 1 and the final 2020 report will be released at the end of November on the ESD website.
- Can office workers be required to return to the workplace? Yes. While much office work might be performed remotely, some employers may wish to return some workers to the workplace. The governor’s Professional Services COVID-19 Requirements do not preclude or prevent this – employers may require some employees to return. High-risk workers, however, must be afforded “reasonable accommodation” to reduce their risk of infection.
- If a worker is “high-risk” but has exhausted their sick and vacation time, what can they do if alternative work arrangements cannot be made? High-risk workers are generally protected from adverse employment action under the proclamation, although employers are not obligated to pay beyond any accrued paid time off.
- According to Proclamation 20-46.2, “Employers are prohibited from failing to utilize all available options for alternative work assignments to protect high-risk employees, if requested, from exposure to the COVID-19 disease, including but not limited to telework, alternative or remote work locations, reassignment, and social distancing measures.”
- In short, the employer must consider alternative work arrangements for high-risk workers. If impossible, the employer is not obligated to pay for unworked hours, but may not take adverse employment action.
Minimum Wage & Overtime Changes
- The 2021 minimum wage increases to $13.69 statewide. The increase of $0.19 per hour begins in January. As before, tips and service charges do not count toward the minimum wage in Washington. The minimum wage for workers aged 14-15 is $11.64 (85% of the minimum wage). Seattle and SeaTac have more generous minimum wage requirements that are to be observed over the state minimum. Passed in 2016, voter Initiative 1433 requires that L&I recalculate the minimum wage annually, based upon the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers.
- The rules for overtime exemptions were also recently amended. In order to be considered exempt, employees defined as executive, administrative and professional, as well as outside salespeople and computer professionals must perform certain duties and usually must earn a salary that meets or exceeds a minimum specified threshold. Both the duties test and the salary threshold implementation schedule were updated in July.
- Small businesses (1-50 employees): An exempt employee must earn a salary of at least 1.5 times the minimum wage, or $821.40 a week ($42,712.80/year).
- Large businesses (51 or more employees): An exempt employee must earn a salary of at least 1.75 times the minimum wage, or $958.30 a week ($49,831.60/year).
Schools & Child Care
- Additional COVID-19 relief funds are earmarked for child care funding. Over $70 million in additional relief funding for the child care industry has been approved by the governor and legislature. This funding will reduce copays for families, help providers cover additional costs and afford extra support to foster families.
- Most Washington schools are conducting education remotely. About 95% of Washington school districts continue to educate students remotely. In the coming months, students may begin to return to in-person schooling. Families may wish to review the Department of Health’s safety guidance for K-12 schooling in preparation for a return to the classroom. Contact your local school district with specific questions about reopening plans. Safe schools depend on responsible behavior and collaboration with families.
Relief for nonprofits and small businesses
- Grants available for art and cultural organizations statewide. The Washington State Department of Commerce and the Washington State Arts Commission have partnered to provided federal CARES Act funding to art and cultural organizations impacted by COVID-19. Grants are available up to $10,000 each, no funding match is required.
- Technical assistance for minority and non-English speaking business owners. Non-English speaking and other multi-ethnic small business owners are closing at disproportionately higher rates due to COVID-19. These business owners now have more places to seek help. The Dept of Commerce has partnered with 20 organizations across the state to providing targeted technical assistance to help with access to funding and other help.
- Funding available to support community youth programming. Approximately $9 million in federal CARES Act funding is available to support nonprofit youth programs serving school-age kits and young adults. The Washington State Department of Commerce has partnered with School’s Out Washington to distribute the funds. Application instructions may be found at this link.
- Continued help for business exports. Washington has received the largest grant award of any state, $1.35 million, to continue to help businesses expand into foreign markets. These funds were awarded by the U.S Small Business Administration’s State Trade Expansion program. Commerce will use these funds to continue a number of successful export assistance programs for small businesses.
Legal and business guidance available. Many clinics and support networks exist, including the following:
Artists and creative businesses can turn to Washington Lawyers for the Arts for legal advice. On Oct 9, they will hold the “Independent Contractor vs. Employee” webinar: a workshop to understand the different classifications of work contracts for artists and creators. See their site for registration and other legal clinic offerings.
BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and women business owners can look to UW for a series of trainings and one-on-one consults through November on Wednesdays.