Washington Governor Jay Inslee has signed Senate Bill 5115, also known as the Health Emergency Labor Standards Act (or HELSA). The HELSA expands worker protections during a public health emergency and requires employers to follow certain notice requirements. Senate Bill 5115 is effective immediately.
The Act covers frontline workers in various industries, including but not limited to:
- Retail stores;
- Hotel, motel, or transient accommodations;
- First responders (enforcement and paramedics);
- Food processing and distribution;
- Maintenance, janitorial, and food service workers at facilities treating patients with infectious or contagious disease subject to a public health emergency;
- Childcare facilities;
- Home care aides;
- Education; and
- Nursing homes.
For workers' compensation and other benefit purposes, employees are assumed to be exposed to infectious or contagious diseases through the transmission of respiratory droplets, aerosols, or contact with contaminated surfaces at work, unless an employer can show that the exposure occurred outside of work.
Frontline employees who are exposed to infectious or contagious diseases at work are eligible to receive workers' compensation benefits, including time loss or temporary disability benefits the day after the employee contracts the occupational disease. This is defined as the earlier of the date that the employee:
- First missed work due to their symptoms;
- Was quarantined by a medical provider or a public health official; or
- Received a positive test result.
Note: Frontline employees are ineligible for temporary disability if they meet a federal or state program's requirements for paid sick leave benefits during a public health emergency.
The HELSA prohibits employers from discriminating against a high-risk employee who asks for an accommodation to shield them from being exposed to the infectious disease. If no reasonable accommodation exists, employers must provide employees with all available leave options, including leave without pay and unemployment insurance, until completion of the public health emergency or accommodation is made available.
Employer Notice Requirements:
Under the HELSA, if an employer receives a notice of potential exposure during a public health emergency, the employer must follow the steps outlined below:
- Provide written notice to all employees, and the employers of subcontracted employees, who were on the premises at the same worksite that an individual has a positive confirmed case of the infectious or contagious disease. Employers have one business day to provide such notice.
- The notice must be in English and in the language understood by the majority of the employer's workforce.
- The notice must be made in a manner the employer normally uses to communicate employment-related information, which may include e-mail, text message, personal service, or other methods, if the employer can reasonably anticipate the notice to be received by the employee within one business day.
Note: Health care facilities (hospitals and clinics) are subject to different rules.
An employer with more than 50 employees at a workplace or worksite must report outbreaks to the Washington Department of Labor and Industries within 24 hours. Reporting is required if the employer has confirmed 10 or more of their employees at the workplace or worksite in the state have tested positive for the infectious or contagious disease.
Employers should review their reporting policies and procedures to ensure compliance with Senate Bill 5115. Please contact your dedicated service professional with any questions.