L&I Requirements and Guidance for Preventing COVID-19

This information is current as of December 1, 2022

Washington State’s public health emergency proclamations for COVID-19 ended on October 31, 2022; however, HELSA is still in effect and COVID-19 is still a recognized workplace hazard that employers must address. Employers covered by recordkeeping rules are required to record workplace injuries and illnesses (including work-related COVID-19 illnesses) on an OSHA 300 log.

Basic Requirements for All Workplaces

At a minimum, all employers must do the following:

  • Assess COVID-19 hazards in the workplace.
  • Ensure COVID-19 hazards are addressed by the company’s Accident Prevention Program, or equivalent safety program.
  • Keep employees who have tested positive or are symptomatic for COVID-19 out of the workplace for at least five days, per Washington State Department of Health guidance.
  • Healthcare workers and others providing care to or working near someone known or suspected to have COVID-19 should wear appropriate, fit-tested, and NIOSH-approved respirators.
  • Provide hand washing facilities and supplies, and regularly clean and sanitize surfaces.
  • Educate employees about COVID-19 prevention in the language they understand best.
  • Notify employees of any COVID-19 exposures at work.
  • Report COVID-19 outbreaks to L&I (if the employer has 50 or more employees).
  • Not discriminate against high-risk employees for seeking accommodations for COVID-19.
  • Allow employees to voluntarily wear masks (respirators, medical procedure masks, or cloth face coverings) and PPE as long as it doesn’t create a safety or security issue.

Other Situations Where Masks Are Still Required

In addition to the requirements outlined above, masks are still required:

  • In hospitals, dentist offices, medical facilities, and other health care settings.
  • In long-term care settings, including home care, home health and home hospice.
  • In correctional and jail facilities, except for facilities in areas where the community level is low.
  • When use is necessary due to a COVID-19 hazard assessment.
  • When required by Department of Health (DOH) or the Local Health Jurisdiction

When respirators are required for protection against COVID-19, so is a written respirator program (see sample templates).

Guidance

The level of COVID-19 hazards may change, and continued assessment is required to determine whether further precautions are needed. Based on a hazard assessment, the following prevention measures may assist employers:

  • Support vaccinations for employees. Being up-to-date on vaccinations continues to significantly reduce the risk for severe illness.
  • If employees must return within 10 days from becoming sick, they should mask up at work.
  • Select and provide more protective masks or respirators, when feasible. Medical procedure masks are a better choice than cloth face coverings. A properly fitting, NIOSH-approved respirator provides the most protection. This is especially important for those at increased risk for severe disease and for employees in certain high-risk situations.
  • Physically distance employees from others, especially when the workforce is unvaccinated or when ventilation is poor. Physical barriers may also be used as sneeze guards or to augment physical distancing for face-to-face interactions.
  • Maximize fresh air and air filtration settings on HVAC systems, and improve filtration in areas with poor ventilation (for example, use portable air cleaners with HEPA filters).
  • When possible, use signage, scheduling practices, or other means to encourage sick or symptomatic customers, visitors, and other non-employees to make alternate arrangements for services (e.g., ask for home delivery or postponing their visit) so they don’t need to enter the workplace.

Reasonable Accommodation and Discrimination

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers must ensure workplaces remain safe and healthy for all, including employees with medical issues or disabilities.

Additionally, the Health Emergency Labor Standards Act protects high-risk employees from being discharged, permanently replaced, or discriminated against in the workplace for seeking accommodation from exposure to an infectious or contagious disease during a public health emergency. This law is administered by L&I and currently applies to accommodations related to COVID-19.

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