Safe Start Questions
Why are these guidance documents/rules always changing? How do I keep up-to-date?
This phased approach may be adjusted as the pandemic evolves. We update the requirements according to the latest science and input from industry and worker organizations. As we learn more about the virus and how to treat COVID-19, rules and guidance change to reflect the best practices to keep our communities safe.
Sign up for email or text alerts at https://coronavirus.wa.gov/sign-email-or-text.
Does a business have to reopen once a requirements document has been issued for the respective sector?
No, any employer has the choice to reopen when they believe they can safely do so. The COVID-19 requirement documents only provide the framework that must be followed if choosing to reopen.
What phase is my county in now?
There are many different types of COVID-19 requirement and guidance documents, how do I know what to follow?
You will find all kinds of agencies and organizations recommending or directing you to documents related to how to safely operate. For your reference, the Governor issues proclamations, memos, and “COVID-19 Requirements” that collectively contain a number of mandatory rules. L&I issues guidance documents that summarize existing or recently filed Washington Administrative Code provisions, and these likewise contain a number of mandatory rules. Conversely, the CDC and DOH most commonly issue best practices and recommendations. As a general matter, a document’s text will give the best indication of what is required. Stay up to date here.
What does it take to get a business-specific safety plan approved?
While your plan is not required to be approved, the Department of Labor & Industries’ safety and health consultants are available to review safety requirements and provide professional guidance related to the plan. Request an L&I consultation.
Does any other proclamation impact my business operation?
Yes. For example, Proclamation 20-24.1 has specific requirements for healthcare providers, and Proclamation 20-46.1 addresses high risk workers. View a list of all COVID-19 related proclamations from Governor Inslee.
What if I need to temporarily lay off employees due to a slowdown of business which is not directly linked to COVID-19?
You may request to place an employee on standby and your employee can collect unemployment benefits without having to look for other work. While on standby, workers must accept any work you offer that they can do without breaking isolation or quarantine. Relief of benefit charges cannot be granted in this situation.
Are healthcare employees, first responders or other essential personnel excluded from the HIgh Risk Proclamation?
No, there are no exclusions. If an employee is at high-risk, as defined by the CDC, the employer is required to accommodate them.
How do I designate my employee to be on standby to make sure they receive the maximum benefit?
Our technology is catching up to our emergency rulemaking. Employers won’t be able to designate the maximum amount of standby time allowed by emergency rules in eServices until we apply an update to the system. We are working on that, and when complete, an employee’s existing application for standby will be automatically extended. No action is needed by employers at this time.
Can I require documentation from the employee to verify that they are high-risk? If so, what can I require?
If an employee is requesting accommodation due to being in a high-risk group, and they provide sufficient facts to support the request, the employer must provide the accommodation.
What will happen to my employees if I go out of business due to impacts from COVID-19?
If you lay off employees due to a permanent closure, they can apply for unemployment benefits. Eligibility will be determined based upon criteria in place prior to COVID-19, and on a case-by-case basis. Layoff assistance may be available for businesses facing major layoffs.
Where can I find additional resources for businesses?
I have some employees whom I believe fit one or more of the high risk categories. Should I reach out to them directly to ask if they would like accommodation?
Because of the risk of potential “regarded as disability” discrimination and age discrimination claims, it is recommended to communicate to all employees about the proclamation rather than to reach out directly to specific employees who have not asked for accommodation.
I have offered an alternative work location to a high-risk employee where no other employees are present, but they are still saying they do not feel safe coming in to work. Can I deny them telework and/or leave?
No. This Proclamation explicitly states that employees “must have access to accommodations to prevent greater risk of contracting COVID-19, and these decisions cannot be left solely to the employer.”
I have offered telework to a high-risk employee, where they will not have to come in to any worksite at any time, but they are saying they would rather take leave. Must I approve the leave in these circumstances?
In this case, you can follow your agency or institution’s leave policies; however, we are encouraging that employers be flexible with employees at this time. Also, because this proclamation gives discretion to employees about how best to remain safe, if you are considering denying leave to a high-risk individual who is requesting leave based on the Proclamation, it is advised to check with State HR and your AAG.
What type of leave can employees use for this purpose?
Employees can use any accrued leave, including vacation, sick, compensatory time, exchange time, personal holiday, or can also utilize federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL). Aside from accrued leave, leave with pay is not authorized for this purpose.
In what order can employees use leave?
Employees can use their leave in any sequence at the discretion of the employee.
Can I require an employee to exhaust accrued leave prior to filing for unemployment if they are unable to work due to their status as a high-risk employee?
No, employees can file for unemployment benefits even if they have not exhausted available leave.
If I am not laying off my employee, how can they seek unemployment benefits? What documentation should I be providing them?
ESD has passed an emergency rule allowing an employee to file for benefits due to lack of work when they are unable to work due to being a member of a high-risk group as defined by the CDC. If an employee is seeking to use unemployment benefits rather than using leave due to lack of an alternative work arrangement, the employer should provide documentation to ESD that there is a lack of work.
Can I back-fill for my high-risk employees who are on leave or not able to perform their jobs on site?
Yes, you can hire temporary/non-permanent employees, as long as they do not permanently replace the high-risk employee.
What programs are offered to assist businesses to keep workers during COVID-19?
The Employment Security Department has expanded programs to help support businesses and workers whose financial stability is affected by COVID-19.
Shared Work: This program allows employers to reduce the hours of permanent and hourly-paid employees by as much as 50 percent. Employees can collect partial unemployment benefits to replace a portion of their lost wages. While on the SharedWork program, employees are not required to make an active search for work. You must apply to participate in the program. Find the application and instructions.
Partial employment (for reduction in hours): If you are temporarily reducing hours of work for your full-time employees, they may be able to receive unemployment benefits without needing to look for work.
Standby: In certain circumstances, your employees may be eligible for standby. Standby means they do not have to look for other work but need to be available for any work you offer that they can do if quarantined or isolated. Generally, standby is only allowed for up to eight weeks during a claim year. We may grant an extension of standby for more than eight weeks if you make your request in writing and can show extraordinary circumstances. Under the new emergency rules, temporary shutdowns related to COVID-19 infection at the place of business that cause you to close or severely reduce operations are considered extraordinary circumstances.
If I need to temporarily shut down my business due to a possible COVID-19 contamination or quarantine at the worksite, can I receive a relief of benefit charges?
If you are a taxable employer, you may request a relief of benefit charges due to a business closure which is directly related to possible contamination at the business site. This will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Are there any changes to the dates that property taxes are due?
Check with your county treasurer's office about potential property tax deadline changes for your county. You can find COVID-19 information and links to county governments on the Washington Association of County Officials website.
What assistance is available for businesses during this crisis?
Find out more information about available resources. This information is changing rapidly, so check back frequently, as we will add new resources regularly.
What if I am late in filing tax reports, paying taxes, or responding timely to requests for information as a result of COVID-19?
Financial penalties may be waived if the delays are a result of COVID-19 impacts.
I am closing my business because of COVID-19. Am I required to cash out employees’ vacation time when my business closes?
Final paychecks must be paid on or before the next regularly scheduled payday. Employers cannot withhold a final paycheck if the employee does not turn in keys, uniforms, tools, equipment, etc. There are specific rules for deductions taken from a final paycheck.
Severance, personal holidays and vacation time are voluntary benefits. Employers can choose to pay out these benefits on a final paycheck. If your employees believe they are owed any of these agreed-upon benefits, they can contact an attorney or file in small claims court.
Employers must follow separate requirements for paid sick leave balances.
We encourage you to learn about resources available to help keep your business open.
I own a membership-based business (such as a gym) that has shut down. Do I refund membership dues because of the mandatory shutdown?
That will depend on your membership contract, so we can’t provide advice on that specific question. Get more information on resources for small businesses.
Is it acceptable to run payroll on a quarterly basis?
Employers must pay employees at least once per month on a regular, scheduled payday. You can learn more on the Department of Labor & Industries website.
I'm self-employed and my business has closed. What resources are available to me?
The resources available to you depend on several factors. We encourage you to contact the Employment Security Department to speak with a specialist about your specific situation: 855-829-9243.
The Employer Unemployment Insurance Q&A is updated frequently. Check back for the most recent information.
Try using the search box at the top of each webpage to find information. The Centers for Disease Control also has a coronavirus FAQ page.
Do you have a business question that isn't answered above? Fill out this form for general inquiries about financial help or other state assistance for businesses.