Workplace Safety

prepare your workplace for the fall surge

Virus activity is accelerating dangerously throughout the United States, including Washington. Virus spikes threaten our health, our schools and our economy. Workers and employers can help to halt the fall surge – please review and follow safety law to keep your shop running safely.  [This post is abridged from the weekly Business & Worker Update from the Washington State Coronavirus Response Team.]

Five key COVID-19 safety requirements for all Washington employers

Emergency law requires five key workplace safety practices for all employers. Employees must practice social distancing and mask up. Employees must wash their hands frequently and thoroughly. Workplaces must be routinely sanitized. A plan must be written and in place to address worker illness. Finally, employees must be educated about COVID-19 and how to work safely.


Some industries have specific safety requirements

Any business or organization that is currently open must follow appropriate safety requirements issued by the governor. These documents institute safety measures that protect workers and customers while keeping these industries in operation. Please refer to this list and see if a document applies to your industry. If so, you are required by law to meet its requirements. Additional industry related resources are available through the Washington Department of Labor & Industries.


Universal masking is still required

All Washington workers must mask up at work, unless working alone. The face covering must cover the mouth and nose. Further, all Washingtonians are required to mask up in all indoor and outdoor public settings. This means that workers and customers alike are required to be masked in the presence of others. All businesses are required to post signage requiring masks of visitors.


Some workers require additional respiratory protection

This L&I guide establishes several risk levels and the required protection for each. In high-risk conditions where respirators are required, employers must review WAC 296-842 governing safe use of respirators.


What you can and can’t do in each Safe Start phase

The Safe Start Plan is still in effect, and your county phase status places some limits on gatherings and commercial activity. General limits and requirements for each phase are listed here. Industry-specific requirements may adjust with phase changes as well. We recommend checking back on these pages every so often to review for updates.


Employers may screen employees before allowing them into a workplace

Employers may screen staff or visitors, with some limits. Temperature-taking, asking screening questions, and asking sick employees to leave are acceptable. Employers should carefully review this Equal Employment Opportunity Commission page before establishing screening measures.


Requiring testing of employees is more complicated, is generally discouraged

Employers are generally discouraged from requiring a negative test before an employee returns to work following a COVID-19 positive diagnosis, as long as the employee has followed their health care providers guidance on quarantining upon receiving their diagnosis. A COVID-19 test is considered a “medical test” and may only be conducted if “job-related and consistent with business necessity“. If a worker meets the conditions to be tested by the Department of Health and is believed to pose a threat to others in the workplace, the employer may request that the worker be tested.


Sick workers or those believed to have been exposed should self-quarantine

If workers show symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone with the virus or its symptoms, they should self-quarantine for 14 days. This may be a difficult conversation to have with a worker reliant on their wages, but they may use paid leave to cover the absence. Employees may use accrued sick leave if asked to quarantine. Under the FFCRA, an additional budget of sick leave is available to symptomatic workers. Up to two weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave is to be provided at their regular rate of pay.

Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash

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