Safe Start Washington: What Employers Need To Know As Governor Eases Restrictions
Washington Governor Inslee just issued a proclamation to kick off the four-phase plan to reopen the state, titled Safe Start Washington: A Phased Approach to Recovery. Each detailed phase of the plan allows additional industries to resume operations subject to limitations designed to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection. What do employers need to know about this phased plan?
Businesses Allowed To Reopen Now
As of May 5, landscaping businesses, auto/RV/boat/RV sales, retail (curbside pick-up only), car washes, pet walkers, and golf courses may re-open, provided they fully comply with all stated requirements. Already-allowed essential businesses and certain construction projects may remain in operation under earlier guidance. Religious services may also resume, but only for drive-in services with one household per vehicle.
Progression Through Phases
The plan requires Washington to remain in each phase for at least three weeks. At the conclusion of that time period, the state may remain in the current phase, advance to the next phase, or return to the prior phase, largely dependent on the outcome of certain health-based statistical measures. Unfortunately, this could mean that businesses that reopened during any phase might be forced to close again in as little as three weeks. To prepare, you should plan now for how to handle both future closures and future lifting of restrictions.
Requirements For Reopening
Business reopening during Phase I must comply with any industry-specific requirements, which Governor Inslee promised would be issued by May 15,2020. You also have a general duty under OSHA and its Washington counterpart, WISHA, to provide a safe workplace for employees. You also must comply with the following plan requirements during each phase:
- Maintain the six-foot physical distancing requirements for employees and patrons. Adopt other prevention measures such as barriers to block sneezes and coughs when physical distancing is not possible for a particular job task.
- Provide services while limiting close interactions with patrons.
- Provide adequate sanitation and personal hygiene for workers, vendors and patrons. Ensure employees have access to hand washing facilities so they can wash their hands frequently with soap and running water.
- Ensure frequent cleaning and disinfection of the business, particularly of high-touch surfaces.
- Identify personal protective equipment (PPE) and cloth facial coverings in accordance with L&I requirements on facial coverings and industry specific COVID-19 standards. Provide the necessary PPE and supplies to employees.
- Identify strategies for addressing ill employees, which should include requiring COVID-19 positive employees to stay at home while infectious, and potentially restricting employees who were directly exposed to the COVID-19 positive employee. Follow CDC cleaning guidelines to deep clean after reports of an employee with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 illness. This may involve the closure of the business until the location can be properly disinfected.
- Educate employees about COVID-19 in a language they best understand. The education should include the signs, symptoms and risk factors associated with COVID-19 and how to prevent its spread.
- On a case-by-case basis, as directed by federal, state and local public health and workplace safety officials, implement other practices appropriate for specific types of businesses, such as screening of employees for illness and exposures upon work entry, requiring non-cash transactions, etc.
- Follow requirements in Governor Inslee’s Proclamation 20-46 High-Risk Employees – Workers’ Rights.
- Keep a safe and healthy facility in accordance with state and federal law, and comply with COVID-19 worksite-specific safety practices, as outlined in Governor Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” Proclamation 20-25, and in accordance with the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries General Coronavirus Prevention Under Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order and the Washington State Department of Health Workplace and Employer Resources & Recommendations.
Accelerated Reopening For Less-Populated Counties
Counties with fewer than 75,000 residents who have not identified a resident with COVID-19 for the past three weeks may ask the Department of Health for a “variance,” allowing it permission to advance to Phase II of the plan before the rest of Washington. Phase II businesses in such counties should stay aware of local efforts to obtain a variance and accelerate plans to re-open accordingly.
What Should Employers Do Now?
Businesses allowed to reopen during Phase I should take steps to comply with all requirements before reopening. Recommended steps include implementing policies regarding employees who resist returning to work for fear of infection and for employees needing accommodation, either under disability laws or Governor Inslee’s proclamation protecting high-risk workers. Clear policies set expectations for employees and guide managers dealing with these issues.
You should also reacquaint yourself with the various COVID-19-related leaves that may be available to employees, including state and local paid leave laws, and leave under the FFCRA (Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Expanded FMLA). Businesses that will open during later phases can take many of the same steps now to prepare to reopen safely when allowed to do so.
As you begin the process of reopening, you should familiarize yourself with our alert: 5 Steps To Reopen Your Workplace, According To CDC’s Latest Guidance. You should also keep handy our 4-Step Plan For Handling Confirmed COVID-19 Cases When Your Business Reopens in the event you learn of a positive case at your workplace. For a more thorough analysis of the many issues you may encounter from a labor and employment perspective, we recommend you review our FP BEYOND THE CURVE: Post-Pandemic Back-To-Business FAQs For Employers and our FP Resource Center For Employers.
Fisher Phillips will continue to monitor the rapidly developing COVID-19 situation and provide updates as appropriate. Make sure you are subscribed to Fisher Phillips’ Alert System to get the most up-to-date information. For further information, contact your Fisher Phillips attorney, any attorney in our Seattle office, or any member of our Post-Pandemic Strategy Group Roster.
This Legal Alert provides an overview of a specific developing situation. It is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal advice for any particular fact situation.