With all the focus on the impending changes to masking mandates and renewed planning efforts for return to work, an important new commitment in the state of Washington may have slipped past the radars of many employers. While advertises the expected changes to masking and other COVID-19-related protocols, Washington Governor Inslee also issued a Safe Worker Proclamation providing additional COVID-19-related job protection for Washington workers.
From now on, employers are expressly prohibited from taking any negative action against an employee for:
- Receiving COVID-19 vaccination;
- To take a reasonable period of time off to receive the COVID-19 vaccination or to recover from any side effects of the vaccine;
- To take the leave required under a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19, or as recommended by an official or healthcare provider due to concerns about or a potentially positive test result for COVID-19, or while experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis;
- Wearing face mask (eg a mask).
“Undesirable action” associated with these protections is broadly defined, but explicitly includes:
- Termination, suspension, relegation or rejection of a promotion;
- To deny the worker their choice of any vacant paid leave under existing state laws, a collective agreement or employer policy to cover the qualifying event, unless otherwise permitted by existing federal or state leave laws;
- Denial of unpaid leave to the worker if they have no paid leave available to cover the qualifying event, unless otherwise permitted by existing federal or state leave laws;
- To refuse the use of or delay payment for paid vacation, wages or other amounts due to the worker;
- Reducing the number of hours worked for the employee;
- Modification of the employee’s existing work schedule;
- Reduction of employee pay; and
- Threatens to take or take measures based on the immigration status of an employee or an employee’s family member.
In addition to isolating employees from negative consequences because they choose to mask or be vaccinated, this Safe Worker Proclamation effectively creates a new category of job protection, but otherwise unpaid leave for qualifying reasons. This new category of leave begins when the employee has exhausted any otherwise available paid or unpaid leave, sick leave or PTO. Employers with employees in Washington want to be sure they comply with these new requirements while working to update their COVID-19 protocols and safe workplace practices.