On May 11, 2021, Governor Inslee signed SB 5115, the Health Emergency Labor Standards Act (HELSA), into law. Under HELSA, any “frontline” employee that contracts an infectious or contagious disease that is the subject of a public health emergency is presumed to have contracted the disease at their workplace. Accordingly, for purposes of workers’ compensation, the disease is considered an occupational disease.
Additionally, during a public health emergency, no employer may discharge, permanently replace, or discriminate against an employee who is at high risk and seeking accommodation to protect themself from exposure to the infectious or contagious disease, including using all available leave options
HELSA also includes two new reporting requirements for certain retail locations:
- An employer with more than 50 employees at a workplace must report to L&I when they have confirmed ten or more of their employees have tested positive for an infectious or contagious disease that is the subject of a public health emergency.
- Additionally, if an employer receives notice of potential exposure to an infectious or contagious disease that is subject to a public health emergency, they are required to provide written notice to their employees, their union, and any contractors on the worksite.
HELSA contains an emergency clause, hence it takes effect immediately upon the Governor’s signature. The Washington Retail Association is working with the Department of Labor and Industries to clarify guidance for the new reporting requirements. For example, employers need to understand what is meant by “ten or more employees testing positive (e.g. – over what period of time) and that any reporting ensures the confidentiality of employee health information. Further, the new reporting requirements should strive to prevent duplication of current reporting requirements to state and local health departments.
Washington Retail will post additional information and guidance as it becomes available.