On April 13, 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee issued Proclamation 20-46 giving high-risk employees’ rights and protections related to the COVID-19 disease.

High-risk employees are those identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at higher risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19, including those over 65 years of age and those of any age who have certain chronic underlying health conditions.  Examples of such underlying health conditions include chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, serious heart conditions, compromised immune system, severe obesity, diabetes, chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis, and liver disease.

Under the Proclamation, employers must do the following for high-risk employees:

  • Utilize all available options for alternative work assignments from those with exposure to the COVID-19 disease, including telework, alternative or remote work location, reassignment, and social distancing measures;
  • Allow the employee to use any accrued leave or unemployment benefits if an alternative work assignment is not feasible;
  • Fully maintain all health insurance benefits until the employee can return to work if he or she exhausts such leave; and
  • Take no adverse employment action that would result loss of the employee’s position by permanent replacement for exercising his or her rights under the Proclamation.

Under the Proclamation, employers may still reduce its workforce when no work reasonably exists, but cannot object to the high-risk employee’s eligibility for unemployment benefits.  Employers may also still hire a temporary employee to replace a high-risk employee and require the high-risk employee provide five (5) days’ advanced notice before returning to work.

These workers’ rights expire on June 12, 2020.

If you have any questions about this or other employment-related issues, please feel free to contact Richard Davis or Matt Paxton.