News & Articles

Governor Inslee Issues Proclamation Providing Protections for High-Risk Employees

Published April 16, 2020

As the world grapples with the coronavirus, here in Washington State Governor Inslee continues to issue new proclamations regarding the virus which affect employers in various industries, all of which can be found here. Most significantly for all employers, this week Governor Inslee issued Proclamation 20-46, which provides protections for high-risk employees by prohibiting all employers from failing to accommodate such employees to avoid risk of at-work exposure to COVID-19. High-risk employees include people 65 years and older and people with underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled.

The Proclamation prohibits employers from:

  • Failing to utilize all available options for alternative work assignments to protect high-risk employees, if requested, from exposure to COVID-19, including but not limited to telework, alternative or remote work locations, reassignment, and social distancing measures;
  • Failing to permit any high-risk employee in a situation where an alternative work arrangement is not feasible to use any available employer-granted accrued leave or unemployment insurance in any sequence at the discretion of the employee;
  • Failing to maintain all employer-related health insurance benefits for an employee who has exhausted their paid time off during the period of leave until the employee is deemed eligible to return to work;
  • Taking adverse employment action against an employee for exercising their rights under the Proclamation that would result in loss of the employee’s current employment position by permanent replacement; and
  • Applying or enforcing any employment contract provisions that contradict or otherwise interfere with the above prohibitions and intent of the Proclamation.

The Proclamation does not prohibit employers from:

  • Hiring temporary employees, so long as it does not negatively impact the permanent employee’s right under the Proclamation to return to their employment position without any negative ramifications to their employment status;
  • Requiring an employee who does not report to work under this Proclamation to give up to five days’ advance notice to the employer of any decision to report to work or return to work under this Proclamation; and
  • Taking employment action when no work reasonably exists, such as a reduction in force; but if no work exists, employers shall not take action that may adversely impact an employee’s eligibility for unemployment benefits.

The Proclamation is in effect until at least June 12, 2020 and violation of the Proclamation may subject an employer to criminal penalties.

The Employment Rights, Benefits & Labor attorneys at Ryan Swanson continue to monitor the latest COVID-19 developments affecting your business. We stand ready to advise employers on the latest legal developments to help with all your employment needs in these challenging times, including how to handle layoffs and navigate employers’ obligations with respect to employees’ benefits and leave rights under federal, state, and local laws. We ultimately hope to work with employers to reopen your business or bring back your workforce in the future.

This webpage is provided for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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