Fairness secured in presumptive COVID workers’ comp bill

Feb 25, 2021
Written by Rose Gundersen, VP of Operations & Retail Services

The Washington Retail Association thanks and applauds all workers who have remained on the “front line” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone deserves respect and care if they inadvertently contract COVID-19. Businesses are doing their part by adapting their practices to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

State and national data during the recent surge in cases showed that infections were largely occurring outside the workplace. For example, over the pandemic, Washington State has reported about 317,000 cases of confirmed COVID-19 as of 2/22/21. Yet only workplace outbreaks reported is only 2,886 as of 2/19/21.

SB 5115, the Health Emergency Labor Standards Act, that passed out of the Senate Labor, Commerce and Tribal Affairs Committee was moving in the opposite direction of the data by presuming that an employer is responsible for a frontline worker contracting COVID-19. The presumption in the bill had two consequences: (1) the worker was protected under Washington’s workers compensation laws and (2) an employer had little opportunity to challenge the presumption.

SB 5115 advanced to the floor of the Senate where Washington Retail, and other business organizations worked with the prime sponsor to align the standard for reviewing the presumption with other standards in workers’ compensation law. Additionally, the legislation was amended to focus on the current state of emergency and bring back important reporting flexibility for small businesses. The changes ensure workers receive the care they deserve, but do not put Washington’s businesses at risk for frivolous or meaningless claims.

The Washington Retail Association is pleased with the outcome, which passed the State Senate on a 47-1 vote.