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Washington Updates Pandemic-Readiness Rules to Implement HELSA and PPE Law

  • December 9, 2021

Not waiting for guidance from federal authorities, Washington’s Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has issued emergency rules to implement two new state pandemic-readiness laws: Health Emergency Labor Standards Act (HELSA) (formerly, ESSB 5115; now, RCW 49.17.062-.064) and Voluntary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Usage (SSB 5254).

One of the most expansive pandemic worker-protection laws in the country, HELSA establishes a rebuttable presumption of workers’ compensation coverage for workplace transmission of certain diseases for “frontline employees,” creates notice and rapid reporting requirements for some workplace exposures, and increases protections for “high-risk” workers.

The new emergency rules are found at WAC 296-62-600 (HELSA) and WAC 296-62-601 (PPE).

In general, the rules:

  • Provide that employers with more than 50 covered employees at a workplace or worksite are required to report to L&I any infectious or contagious disease outbreaks of at least 10 employees;
  • Define terms in HELSA and the PPE law;
  • Confirm that employees are not required to disclose any medical condition or diagnosis to their employer;
  • Except for certain healthcare employers, require employers to notify employees in writing of potential exposures within one business day; and
  • Permit employees and contractors to voluntarily use personal protective equipment not otherwise required by an employer, unless doing so:
    • Introduces hazards to the work environment;
    • Involves facial coverings that interfere with an employer’s security requirements; or
    • Conflicts with standards for the specific type of equipment used.

For more details, see our article, Washington Passes Two New Laws to Prepare for the Next Pandemic.

If you have questions or need assistance, please reach out to the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you regularly work.

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