Business & Worker Update: July 23, 2020

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July 23, 2020 

The Business and Workers update is a weekly newsletter providing news and information to help businesses and workers navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. The information is compiled by the state Economic Resiliency Team (ERT), part of the Joint Information Center.

What should Washington workers and employers know this week?

July 23, 2020


What you need to know about…

Virus activity in Washington state


Washington state in an "explosive situation"

The Washington State Department of Health issued a dismal COVID-19 Situation Report, concluding that transmission is accelerating statewide and will continue to do so absent decisive preventative action. The report further states Washington state is in the early stages of an exponential statewide outbreak that will not reverse without changes to collective behavior and policy in support of those changes.


Viral transmission is increasing exponentially

The average number of others infected by a carrier of COVID-19, referred to as the "R-naught" figure, currently indicates exponential transmission statewide. In Western Washington, a person infected with COVID-19 goes on to infect 1.54 other persons, on average. That figure is 1.41 in Eastern Washington. Any figure above 1.0 may lead to exponential growth. The rate of hospitalization per 100,000 residents has increased from 2.5 to 3.4 in the last month. Universal adoption of face coverings and practice of social distancing are essential to limit transmission.


Responsible collective behavior making a difference in Yakima County

Yakima County's dramatic summer virus activity has begun to slow. The local R-naught figure is near 1.0 - the state goal. Yakima County's universal mask mandate predated the statewide order and may have contributed to slowed virus activity in a county that had once reported test positivity rates as high as 30%. Masking, social distancing, and limiting close contact with non-household members remain recommended precautions to slow the spread.

What you need to know about…

Unemployment benefits


Federal $600 weekly unemployment benefit scheduled to conclude July 25

The federal CARES Act created the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation ("FPUC") program that provides $600 a week in addition to the weekly amount claimants received from other Unemployment Insurance (UI) programs. These federal benefits will conclude on July 25 without new legislation from Congress that is signed by the President, meaning that this week will be the final week in which the additional $600 is paid to claimants.


Unemployment benefits are back-paid in case of adjudication or processing delay

Claims that require adjudication or additional processing will not miss out on benefits. If a claim is adjudicated in favor of the claimant, benefits will be paid back to the date of eligibility. Eligibility for federal benefits will not be lost if a claim is adjudicated favorably. Although the FPUC program is to conclude this week, claimants eligible for benefits between Mar. 29 and July 25 will be back-paid their weekly benefit amount and the extra $600 a week to their date of eligibility once their claim is resolved - even if the program is not extended. Learn more about Operation 100 and adjudications.


Other state and federal unemployment insurance programs remain active

State UI benefits, as well as other benefits created by the CARES Act like Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA, which expands eligibility) or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC, which provides 13 additional benefit weeks for eligible claimants), will continue.

What you need to know about…

Face coverings and individuals with medical conditions or disabilities


Workers unable to wear face masks may request employer accommodation

To be excepted from the statewide face covering requirement, employees with medical conditions or disabilities that prevent the use of face coverings must provide their employer with an accommodation statement from their medical professional specifying that a face should not be worn due to a present health condition.


Employers must make "reasonable accommodation" for disabled workers

Employers are required to afford workers "reasonable accommodation" in the form of adjusted policy, procedure, or work environment to permit equal employment opportunities to disabled workers. Workers unable to wear face coverings due to a medical condition or disability might be accommodated by reassignment to another job with similar pay and status, job restructuring, or a modified workplace. Workers that request reasonable accommodation should expect to provide verification of the claimed disability and verification of its limits on the work performed by the worker, among other information.


Worker discrimination on the basis of disability is illegal in Washington state

Washington State law establishes a broad definition of disability that increases employment protections for persons with medical, psychological, and other impairments. The state's definition of disability is broader than that found in the Americans with Disabilities Act and may often cover temporary conditions like pregnancy. Employers are required to reasonably accommodate employee disabilities. The Washington State Human Rights Commission has published an FAQ document and a compliance checklist for businesses to develop non-discriminatory workplace policy. 


Workers with medical exemptions fired for inability to wear face coverings may have recourse

If a worker believes that discrimination on the basis of disability or medical condition contributed to termination, they may wish to approach their employer's human resources department or review their rights through the Human Rights Commission. For King County residents, the Northwest Justice Project or the Free Legal Assistance page at the King County Bar Association may be a helpful resource.

What you need to know about…

Face covering exceptions and alternatives

Temperature alone is insufficient to negate the face covering requirement.

Although weather is warming statewide, It is not appropriate to remove facial coverings based only on the temperature. Only workers that meet the standard of "working alone" may work without face coverings in Washington State at this time. Studies have shown that respirators do not cause undue physiological stress to most wearers and their removal is not an effective means of temperature regulation. If disposable medical masks are considered by your workforce to be more comfortable than cloth face coverings, the disposable option is perfectly acceptable during low-transmission work.


Face shields are not substitutes for cloth face coverings

Face shields protect the wearer from droplets but do not sufficiently protect others. Coverings must provide "source protection" by covering the nose and mouth to prevent droplets from circulating. A face shield that includes a cloth extension that is attached to the entire edge of the face shield in conjunction with additional social distancing may substitute.

What you need to know about…

Information for small businesses


Guidance for "Personal Service" workers amended

Slight revisions have been made to the Personal Services workplace safety guidance to be followed by barbers, stylists, beauticians, and cosmetologists. The amended guidance lifts some requirements (access through front entrance, requirement of customer hand-washing before service, and requirement providing each customer with a new cape) and clarifies other requirements. While personal service providers may not be able to distance six feet from customers, booths and workstations should be appropriately spaced or be separated by physical barriers.


Small business webinars review COVID-19 related relief, resources and requirements

This webinar series reviews information specific to Washington small businesses. A panel of state and federal partners is present to respond to live Q&A regarding unemployment insurance, returning employees to the workplace, relief funding, workplace safety measures and other topics important to employers. The next English-language webinar will be held on July 30 at 1:30 p.m., and Spanish-language webinars will be held on July 28 at 5:30 p.m. and July 30 at 8:30 a.m.


Questions about the Safe Start Plan?


Ask questions about workplace safety, Safe Start phases, relief programs, paid sick leave, unemployment and more. Our Business Response Center is standing by to respond.


Submit your question here.