Washington: New Workers’ Comp Rules for Infectious Diseases


Frontline Employers with WA Employees


May 11, 2021


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(888) 378-2456

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently updated guidance for people who are vaccinated in non-healthcare settings.  People are considered fully vaccinated as of two weeks of receiving either the second dose of a two-dose vaccine (e.g., Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) or the only dose of a single-dose vaccine (e.g., Johnson and Johnson).

SB 5115, the Health Emergency Labor Standards Act (HELSA), amends the state workers’ compensation rules for employees who get sick from infectious and contagious illnesses in the workplace. Specifically, HELSA creates a “prima facie presumption” that an employee contracts airborne illnesses (i.e., transmitted through respiratory droplets, aerosols, or contact with contaminated surfaces) from work, unless the employer can show that the illness was contracted outside of the workplace. HELSA applies to industries with frontline workers (e.g., first responders, food processing and distribution, childcare, retail, hotels, restaurants, etc.).

  • Required Notice. Employers must provide all employees, their employee representatives, and employers of subcontracted employees with written notice of a potential exposure to the infectious illness within 24 hours of an occurrence.
  • Employers are prohibited from discriminating against high-risk employees seeking an accommodation. If no reasonable accommodation is available, employers must provide employees with all available leave options.
  • An outbreak occurs when an employer with more than 50 employees at a worksite has 10 or more employees test positive for an infectious disease. In the event of an outbreak, employers must report to the state Department of Labor and Industries.
  • There is no three-day waiting period for temporary disability benefits for this purpose. Additionally, temporary disability benefits are not available during the period when federal or state paid sick leave benefits apply.

Action Items

  1. Review the bill here.
  2. Prepare required potential exposure notice template for use when needed.
  3. Implement procedures to timely report potential workers’ compensation claims.
  4. Coordinate investigation with claims administrators.
  5. Train appropriate personnel on new requirements.
  6. Subscribers can call our HR On-Call Hotline at (888) 378-2456 for further assistance.

Disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance concerning employment-related issues. It is presented with the understanding that ManagEase is not engaged in rendering any legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please contact the services of your own legal adviser.

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