Employment law issues active in week 2

Jan 20, 2022
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Written by Washington Retail
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WR is actively working on several employment-related bills as the Legislature moves through its second week.

HB 1486 expands eligibility to receive unemployment insurance benefits to those who voluntarily quit their jobs. Under current law, there are a limited number of circumstances when an employee can receive UI benefits after voluntarily leaving their job. This bill, which was opposed by WR during the 2021 session, was resurrected this week and moved immediately to the House Floor for a potential floor vote. Under the bill, a person would be eligible for UI benefits if they leave a job due to a family member’s death or need to care for a child or adult.

The bill also adds eligibility if shifts are changed by 25%, which is not unusual for our industry with high seasonality in workers’ schedules. Employers are already burdened with double to triple UI rates, whether it’s socialized or individual employer rates. This 25% change appears arbitrary and does not consider the retail industry, the 3rd largest employer in the state. 93% of retailers have less than 50 employees, according to ESD data. This change will hit small retailers hard when they’re already struggling due to the pandemic. One employee on UI could double or triple a small employer’s UI rate for small employers.

HB 1706 requires retail businesses to allow drivers delivering to their locations to use restroom facilities. Although the bill is focused on drivers delivering to ports, it also encompasses retail companies. WR testified, pointing out that retailers provide their facilities to drivers, and urged the Committee to consider how this situation is addressed in current law.

HB 1837 would repeal the voter enacted prohibition on regulating ergonomics. This is a significant departure from the current policy that requires legislators to review the history and listen carefully. WR will join the broader business community in opposing the repeal.

HB 1795 amends prohibitions on the use of non-disclosure agreements to include harassment and discrimination. It also adds ambiguous standards that will lead to more challenges and lawsuits. WR believes that harassment and discrimination can be addressed by making changes to current law, as reflected in SB 5520.

HB 2031 and SB 5873 provide additional relief from increases in unemployment insurance taxes due to the COVID 19 pandemic by adjusting “social taxes” over the next year. These bills also use general fund money to relieve employees from the large increases in Paid Family and Medical Leave premiums anticipated because of the pandemic. WR is still reviewing these bills and is pleased that additional relief is under consideration.

HB 1763 and SB 5627 are concerning injured workers’ rights during independent medical examinations. The bill was heard this last Friday. As written, it would allow for the recording of an independent medical exam at the request of the worker and allow them to bring in an observer that isn’t their legal counsel. These exams are usually ordered by L&I to determine worker treatment. WR testified in opposition with a broad coalition also opposed.

HB 1837 repeals the prohibition on ergonomic regulations and restores the state’s ability to address work-related musculoskeletal injuries. An initiative was passed in 2003 by the construction sector that prohibits the state from regulating ergonomics or musculoskeletal injuries. This bill would repeal that initiative. WR will be opposing as there is no federal set of standards from OSHA and it’s very difficult to determine if an ergonomic injury was caused by a personal or work-related activity. This is scheduled for a hearing next week.

HB 1656 would modify the definition of theft by adding the term concealment. This bill has been around for several years now and WR has been supporting this very vigorously. This bill will be heard tomorrow, Friday, January 21, and WR is asking members to help testify or invite their loss prevention agents to this hearing to make a good showing.