On May 11, 2021, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation (SB 5115) enacting the state’s Health Emergency Labor Standards Act, which requires the following during a public health emergency. The law went into effect immediately. Highlights of Bill include reporting, employee notice and non-discrimination requirements as follows:
- Reporting Requirements. Employers with more than 50 employees at a workplace must report (on a departmental form that may not include any employee names or personally identifying information) positive tests to the Washington State Department of Health within 24 hours of confirming that ten or more employees at a workplace in Washington tested positive for the infectious or contagious disease that is the subject of the public health emergency.
- Notice to Employees. Employers that receive a notice of potential exposure to the infectious or contagious disease that is the subject of the public health emergency must, within one business day of the potential exposure, give written notice to all its employees who were at the workplace when the person who exposed them to the disease was there. The notice cannot include any employee names or personally identifying information, and the law does not alter or eliminate any other reporting obligations that employers have under state or federal law. Notice must also be given to the employees’ exclusive representative, if applicable, and employers of subcontracted employees who were at the workplace. The notice must be given in a way that the employer normally uses to communicate employment-related information (i.e., personal service, email, or text message) and must be in both English and the language understood by most of the employees.
- Non-Discrimination. Employers may not discriminate against a high-risk employee (due to age or an underlying health condition, who is at high risk of severe illness) because they seek an accommodation to protect them from exposure to the public health emergency infectious or contagious disease or utilize all available leave options, including unpaid leave and unemployment insurance, until the public health emergency ends, or the accommodation is made available.
Employees are not required to disclose any medical condition or diagnosis to their employer, and the law does not apply to employers that are health care facilities. For employees of health care facilities with known or suspected high-risk exposure, notification to the employee and with the employee’s authorization, to their union representative, if any by the facility must occur within 24 hours of confirmed exposure.