Washington State’s New Health Emergency Labor Standards Act Requirements

by Colleen Malmassari, SHRM-CP, PHR

August 23, 2021                                                                              

If you're an employer in Washington State with more than 50 employees, you are now required to notify Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) of any COVID-19 outbreaks at your workplace.

This new requirement comes under the Health Emergency Labor Standards Act (HELSA) that was signed on May 11, 2021 with new reporting requirements issued on August 17, 2021.

New Employer Reporting Requirements
The newest HELSA provision introduced requires employers with 50 or more employees at any worksite to make a report to L&I within 24 hours if 10 or more employees at the worksite test positive for an infectious or contagious disease. Employees include hourly, salaried, part-time, seasonal and any employee hired from a temporary help service.

The new regulation applies specifically to COVID-19 outbreaks of 10 or more test-confirmed employee infections with test collection dates that occur during:

  • A period that starts when any two (or more) cases have occurred within 14 consecutive calendar days of each other and ends when 28 consecutive calendar days have passed without a new infection; OR
  • Any period the Washington State Department of Health or a local health jurisdiction communicates to the employer that there is a COVID-19 outbreak at their workplace.
The primary purpose of the reporting requirement is to help the department identify and track bunches of infections at specific workplaces or in specific industries, but HELSA also indicates the reports can be used by L&I to investigate health and safety violations.

Compliance Forms to L&I
Once an employer learns that ten or more cases have occurred at their workplace, they have 24 hours to report the outbreak by calling L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Employers will also be required to fill out a specific form to report the circumstances, which L&I has not yet formally released. However, the department has informed the public that the report may not include any names or other personal identifying information of the infected employees. It also won’t require employees to disclose any medical conditions or diagnoses to their employers.

Notifying Your Employees
Under HELSA, employers are required to notify employees of potential exposure to COVID-19. As an employer, you must notify all covered employees who were on the premises at the same worksite on the same day as a qualifying individual who may have been infectious or contagious. For COVID-19, a qualifying individual could be infectious or contagious:

  • At least two days before feeling sick; or, if asymptomatic, at least 2 days before being tested, AND
  • Until they are isolated and/or leave the worksite.
Written notice to employees must be provided in a manner normally used to communicate employment-related information; this includes personal service, email, or text message — if the notification can reasonably be anticipated to be received within one business day by the employee. Notification cannot include employee name(s) or personal information.

Timing and Preparation
These rules will remain in effect until the declared public health emergency ends, including the current COVID-19 pandemic. These requirements will also apply during any future pandemic or other public health emergency involving an infectious or contagious disease.

As an employer, we can help you understand your new notification obligations and help develop processes to ensure you comply now and for any future event that may occur. Give us a call today. 

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