Past COVID-19: Washington SB 5115 Expands Employees’ Compensation Legal responsibility And Discover Necessities For Infectious Ailments – Employment and HR

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Beyond COVID-19: Washington SB 5115 Expands Employee Compensation Liability and Infectious Disease Notification Requirements

May 26, 2021

Littler Mendelson

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On May 11, 2021, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed Law SB 5115, the Health Emergency Labor Standards Act (HELSA), which broadens the framework for employee compensation for infectious and contagious diseases and imposes new termination obligations on employers . The law uses similar language to California’s SB 1159 (which creates a rebuttable presumption for the transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace) and AB 685 (which creates notification requirements for possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace) with some notable differences.

Which employees are insured?

The new law applies to industries with frontline workers including:

  • First responders such as law enforcement and paramedics
  • Employee in the food processing and distribution industry
  • Maintenance, janitorial and food service staff in any facility treating patients with contagious or contagious diseases exposed to a public health emergency
  • Drivers and operators of transit agencies
  • Childcare workers
  • Retail store employees who interact in person with the public
  • Employees at hotels, motels, or temporary accommodations
  • Restaurant staff
  • Home care workers
  • Correctional officers
  • Educational staff (K-12 and higher education) who interact in person
  • Public library staff
  • Nursing home workers

What does the guess mean?

In a public health emergency, SB 5115 provides a “prima facie” presumption that infectious or contagious diseases transmitted through breath droplets, aerosols, or contact with contaminated surfaces are occupational. In order to rebut the presumption, an employer must demonstrate that the exposure occurred during non-employment (or other employment), during lost work, or during a quarantine period immediately prior to the injury or occupational disease.

What advantages is the employee entitled to?

Under Washington’s legal system of workers ‘compensation, this presumption provides workers’ compensation benefits, including lost time or temporary disability benefits, for frontline workers suffering from contagious or contagious diseases. If a frontline worker is eligible for paid sickness benefits under a federal or state program during the public health emergency, no temporary disability benefits will be paid for the period covered by the program.

SB 5115 eliminates the three-day waiting period traditionally required to receive temporary disability benefits. According to the new law, employee benefits begin on the day after the employee is infected with the occupational disease. This is defined as the earliest time the worker first missed work due to symptoms, the day the worker was quarantined by a medical provider or public health officer, or the date on which the employee has received a positive test result.

Reporting requirements for “outbreak”

SB 5115 creates a new reporting requirement for the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) in the event of an outbreak. According to SB 5115, a public health emergency outbreak occurs when an employer with more than 50 employees in one workplace or on a construction site has 10 or more employees in the workplace who have tested positive for the contagious or contagious disease. Unlike California’s AB 685, which limits an outbreak to three positive cases within 14 days, SB 5115 does not provide a timeframe for counting the 10 positive cases. Since HELSA requires L&I to contact the Department of Health prior to issuing regulations or guidelines, these periods are likely to be given on a disease-by-disease basis.

Protection for employees at high risk

The new law also appears to codify Governor Inslee’s Executive Order 20-46, which provides protection for high-risk employees. In particular, SB 5115 prohibits discrimination against high risk employees who seek shelter to protect them from the risk of exposure to infectious diseases. In the absence of reasonable accommodation, an employer is required to provide employees with all available vacation options.

What kind of notice do employers need to make to employees?

A “potential exposure” occurs when a person on the construction site has a positively confirmed case of an infectious disease. Similar to California AB 685, employers under SB 5115 must take the following actions within 24 hours of a “potential exposure” occurring:

  • Inform in writing all employees and employers of employees who were on the construction site during the infection period and who may have been exposed to the contagious or contagious disease.
  • Provide a written notice to the employee representatives.

The written communication may include, but is not limited to, personal service, email, or text message if it can reasonably be expected to be received by the employee within one business day of being posted and must be in English and by the majority the employee. In particular, however, health facilities such as hospitals and clinics are exempt from the reporting requirement for “all employees”.


To exploit the rebuttable presumption of SB 5115, employers and claims trustees must work quickly to carefully examine each positive test result and gather evidence that the transfer occurred outside of the workplace. In addition, if employees test positive for an infectious disease, employers are strongly encouraged to consult an attorney for proper notification requirements.

The content of this article is intended to provide general guidance on the subject. A professional should be obtained about your particular circumstances.

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