Health Emergency Labor Standards Act (HELSA) Implementation
The Washington State Legislature recently passed and Governor Jay Inslee signed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5115, known as the Health Emergency Labor Standards Act (HELSA). This law became effective on May 11, 2021.
HELSA establishes the following requirements for an infectious or contagious disease like COVID-19 during a declared public health emergency:
- Frontline workers, as defined in the law, who contract an infectious or contagious disease are entitled to workers’ compensation wage replacement and medical benefits under a rebuttable presumption that exposure to disease occurred on the job.
- Employers with more than 50 employees at a workplace must notify L&I within 24 hours if they have ten or more employees who have tested positive for an infectious or contagious disease. Call 1-800-423-7233 to notify L&I.
- Employers are prohibited from discharge, replacement, or discrimination of high-risk employees for seeking accommodations or utilizing leave to protect against an infectious or contagious disease.
- Employers must notify employees, union representatives, and employers of subcontracted employees of potential exposure to an infectious or contagious disease.
Please see the HELSA bill for more details, including the list of "frontline workers."
COVID-19 continues to be recognized as a very serious workplace hazard and until permanent rulemaking for infectious and contagious diseases is adopted, this temporary measure will help to reduce the transmission of this disease in the workplace.
On August 10, 2021, December 7, 2021, and again on August 4, 2022 L&I filed emergency rulemaking in response to this new law.
The emergency rule (WAC 296-62-601 through WAC 296-62-609) includes requirements for when there is a public health emergency for an infectious or contagious disease and as such, the requirements are applicable to COVID-19.
Under the emergency rule:
- Employers with 50 or more covered employees at a workplace or worksite are required to report infectious or contagious disease outbreaks of 10 or more employees to L&I;
- Definitions for Covered Employee, Public Health Emergency, Worksite or Workplace and Test- confirmed are included;
- Employees are not required to disclose any medical condition or diagnosis to their employer;
- Employers, except for certain healthcare employers, are required to notify employees in writing of potential exposures within one business day; and
- Employees and contractors must be permitted to voluntarily use personal protective equipment.
This updated rule is in the process of being translated.
L&I has also filed a Preproposal Statement of Inquiry (CR-101) on May 13, 2021, regarding permanent amendments to existing permanent rules to address hazards from COVID-19 or other outbreaks of infectious or contagious diseases. Some amendments made as part of the emergency rule will be considered for permanent rulemaking.
L&I is drafting guidance on how these requirements will be implemented and enforced. More information and resources are coming soon.
- Questions and Answers: New Reporting, Notification, and PPE Requirements for Public Health Emergencies Involving Infectious or Contagious Diseases
- Questions and Answers: Protecting High-Risk Employees from Discrimination During Public Health Emergencies (F417-291-000)
- Common Questions About Presumptive Coverage for Health Care and Frontline Workers
- Self-Insurance and Coronavirus (COVID-19) Common Questions
For rulemaking questions, please contact:
Carmyn Shute Carmyn.Shute@Lni.wa.gov or 360-902-6081
For technical questions, please contact:
Dr. Nicholas Reul Nicholas.Reul@Lni.wa.gov or 360-902-5963
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