The COVID-19 outbreak has radically disrupted life in our region. As of June 15th, the Washington State Department of Health reports that 26,531 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in the state. While the pandemic is not over, there is some good news: we are finally starting to see signs of progress. As of Friday, June 19th, King County officially entered phase 2 of the reopening plan for Washington.
For workers, the ongoing, gradual reopening raises a very important question: how do you keep yourself safe and healthy in the workplace after quarantine? State and federal officials and workers’ rights advocates are now weighing in on this important issue. Here, our Seattle workers’ comp lawyers explain what we know about workplace health and safety in the post-quarantine era.
Washington State Leaders on Return to the Workplace
To give people a better understanding of how life will look after quarantine, King 5 TV asked some of the state’s top experts questions about lifting of state and local stay-at-home orders and what we need to do as a community to keep people safe. Here are some key points from the virtual town hall on workplace safety:
- Employers Must Focus on Worker Safety: Secretary John Wiesman of the Washington State Department of Health notes that “it is a shared responsibility” but that employers must create safe conditions for employees to return to including social distancing and staying home when sick.
- Take it Slow: Washington is reopening in phases, asking employers to take it slow when bringing employees back and giving workers as much flexibility for remote work as possible. Workers who can reasonably work from home should continue to do so. If an employee shows symptoms of COVID-19, they need to stay home.
- Employers Must Plan: Steve Pemberton, the CEO of the human capital company “Workhuman,” notes that employers need to be proactive in making the workplace environment as safe as possible. Of his top four items, he talked about PPE (masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer), specific distancing instructions to employees, updated office configuration, and what to do if someone tests positive for COVID-19.
- Quick Action After a Positive Test: COVID-19 is not over. Renewed outbreaks are bound to happen. Measures are in place to monitor the ability to quickly identify and stop any new coronavirus outbreaks. Employers must be ready for what will happen if one or more of their staff members test positive.
WISHA Guidance: Workplace Safety During COVID-19
The Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA) has a resource center with information and guidance on COVID-19 in the workplace. Employers must follow all relevant WISHA regulations, including those specific to COVID-19. “Employers must ensure social distancing for employees and customers, frequent and adequate employee hand-washing, and that sick employees stay home. Employers must also provide basic workplace hazard education about coronavirus and how to prevent transmission in languages best understood by employees.”
Here are three things that WISHA wants employers and employees to know about COVID-19:
- Discrimination. Employers cannot threaten or fire a worker for exercising safety and health rights, raising issues about such rights, participating in union activities concerning health and safety, or filing a safety and health complaint. Workers have 30 days to file a safety or health complaint with the Department of Labor & Industries or Federal OSHA (for employees working in federal jobs or on Indian reservations).
- Mandatory Social Distancing. Employers must keep employees at least six feet away from coworkers and the public. Also required are barriers to block sneezes and coughs, and ventilation improvements if social distancing is not feasible.
- Sick Employees. Require sick workers go home and stay home; isolate workers with COVID-19 symptoms; follow CDC cleaning guidelines for deep cleaning after reports of a sick worker; keep workers away from areas undergoing deep cleaning; and, conduct daily COVID-19 symptom checks for anyone entering a work area.
Washington Workers Deserve Safe and Fair Conditions
Essential workers have helped keep our economy running and our society functioning through the worst aspects of the pandemic. As Washington State’s economy slowly opens and more people return to work, it is crucial that we take collective action to keep people safe.
In an article published by The Stand, Washington State Labor Council President Larry Brown makes an important, if blunt point: “too many companies are disinclined or uninterested in making investments to keep their workers safe — and the results are being measured in body bags.” Profits cannot be allowed to come before the health and safety of workers.
Call Our Washington Workers’ Comp Lawyers for Help
At The Walthew Law Firm, our Washington workers’ compensation attorneys are skilled, results-focused advocates for injured workers. We fight for the rights and interests of people—not employers or insurance companies. If you have questions about COVID-19 and workers’ comp, we are here to help. To request a free, completely confidential initial consultation, please contact us today. With offices in Seattle and Everett, we represent injured workers throughout Washington.