Guidance to Help Grocery Stores Keep Workers Safe During Pandemic

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has issued specific guidance to help grocery stores and the retail industry to go along with previously released general guidance for workplaces.

While many workers in Washington are hunkering down in response to Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order to fight the coronavirus (COVID-19), thousands of essential workers are still on the job. Workers in grocery stores and at other essential businesses are facing exposure so everyone else can purchase food and supplies, and get other essential services.

Protecting grocery workers from coronavirus

The L&I guidance requires stores to have a social distancing plan, ensure frequent hand washing, and provide basic education to staff about how to prevent the spread of coronavirus. To protect workers, L&I strongly recommends steps like installing hand sanitizer dispensers for customers, ensuring people handling money and retrieving carts are wearing gloves, and marking on the floor and enforcing six-foot increments at checkout stands.

“Grocery and retail workers are there so the rest of us can have access to important goods and supplies,” said Anne Soiza, assistant director in charge of L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH). “We have to do everything in our power to keep them as safe as possible, and we ask customers to help keep them safe by practicing sensible social distancing habits when shopping.”

The L&I guidance also includes specifics for cleaning and sanitizing stores, recommends stocking and deep cleaning while the store is closed, and suggests prohibiting the use of reusable shopping bags.

Guidance for specific industries

Along with the guidance to help grocery stores and retail workers, L&I has issued guidance for janitorial workers, the trucking industry, long-term care workers, and the construction industry. All are available on the L&I Division of Occupational Safety and Health coronavirus webpage. The agency is consulting with advocates for agricultural workers and the farming industry on agricultural guidance and expects to release it soon.

The nature of the outbreak changes daily and it’s important for the public and employers to stay on top of the most current information. L&I has launched a COVID-19 webpage with links to helpful information and resources. The department also recommends the federal OSHA workplace guidance to help employers prepare and deal with the outbreak.

The state coronavirus.wa.gov webpage has links to important information and guidance related to the pandemic from numerous state agencies.

Information is the best resource to keep workers and the public as safe as possible. L&I is urging employers to stay as informed as possible, and to take all measures necessary to keep Washington workers safe and healthy.

Prior posts on this topic:

Stimulus Payments and Workers’ Comp

In our prior post, CARES ACT STIMULUS PAYMENTS, Brian Wright explained that there might be a conflict between stimulus payments and workers’ comp claims. The law was not clear if recipients of workers’ comp benefits, which are not taxable income, would be entitled to stimulus payments.

Brian sought clarification of the law from our State’s delegation to the other Washington. They were unsure. He reviewed the IRS documentation. It was unclear. Emergency rules would need to be written and implemented by the IRS to provide clarification.

The IRS has now issued guidance that indicates that workers’ compensation recipients, both of time loss compensation and disability pensions, WILL receive the stimulus funds, providing they meet the other eligibility criteria.

Eligibility Requirements

You are eligible to receive a stimulus payment if you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien who:

  • Has a valid Social Security number,
  • Could not be claimed as a dependent of another taxpayer, and
  • Had adjusted gross income under certain limits. NOTE: workers’ compensation benefit payments are NOT included in the adjusted gross income figure, as they are not taxable benefits.
Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info – The Portal

The IRS provides an online portal for reporting 2019 income figures for those who were not required to file a return. This would include people whose only income for 2019 was workers’ compensation benefits.

You will need to create an account to log into the portal. The fillable form is provided and managed by Intuit – makers of TurboTax and QuickBooks and Mint – and is free to use.

IRS Portal Link:  
Information You will Need to Provide

Before starting, review the instructions from the IRS and gather the data that will be needed to fill out the form completely:

  • Full name, current mailing address and an email address
  • Date of birth and valid Social Security number
  • Bank account number, type and routing number, if you have one
  • Identity Protection Personal Identification Number (IP PIN) you received from the IRS earlier this year, if you have one
  • Driver’s license or state-issued ID, if you have one
  • For each qualifying child: name, Social Security number or Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number and their relationship to you or your spouse
Stimulus Payments and Workers’ Comp – How it Works

The instructions are still vague when it comes to stimulus payments and workers’ compensation recipients. If one reads between the lines, with a little prior knowledge, then the portal will work. Here we offer our tips for completing the Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info forms correctly.

You May NOT be Required to Provide Information Through the Portal

Most eligible U.S. taxpayers will automatically receive their Economic Impact Payments, including:

  • Individuals who filed a federal income tax for 2018 or 2019
  • Individuals who receive Social Security retirement, disability (SSDI), or survivor benefits. NOTE: if you receive combined benefits under workers’ compensation and Social Security, you do NOT need to use the portal.
  • Individuals who receive Railroad Retirement benefits
Who SHOULD Provide Information Through the Portal

Eligible U.S. citizens or permanent residents who:

  • Had gross income that did not exceed $12,200 ($24,400 for married couples) for 2019. NOTE: this refers to TAXABLE income. Your workers’ compensation benefits may exceed this total. You should continue with providing your information.
  • Were not otherwise required to file a federal income tax return for 2019, and didn’t plan to. NOTE: this means you, if workers’ compensation payments were your primary source of income.
Have Questions? We Can Help

We are here as a resource for injured and disabled workers. For current clients, please contact your attorney/paralegal team for assistance with the portal. For all others, feel free to contact us by phone or email with your questions. We will do our best to provide answers.

DLI News: COVID-19 FAQs from Employers

The Department of Labor & Industries (DLI) has responded to COVID-19 FAQs from employers. In a news statement, below, DLI outlines policy decisions made to provide direction and relief for state fund employers under the workers’ compensation system.

The referenced COVID-19 FAQs are, primarily, related to employers who participate in the Retrospective Rating, or RETRO, program. This is a complex system based on a simple premise. Retro employers pay premiums into the workers’ compensation fund each year, but are then audited to determine actual claim costs. If their costs are higher than premiums paid, then an additional payment for the difference must be made. Or, if the claim costs are lower than the premiums paid, they receive a refund of a portion of their premium payments.

This program is intended to incentivize safer workplaces. The claim costs from allowed Coronavirus cases could prove quite harmful to many employers. The policy updates from DLI address this concern.

DLI Notice of COVID-19 Policy Decisions

In response to questions from employers and their representatives, the Department of Labor & Industries has made certain policy decisions to provide some financial relief to state fund employers from the impact of allowed COVID-19 claims. These decisions are outlined in the “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) below. We also want you to be aware of premium reporting requirements under certain circumstances such as when a business has been closed as a result of the pandemic, yet the employer is continuing to pay their workers. And we’ve clarified that injured workers whose temporary light duty ends are entitled to time-loss compensation. If you have any questions please contact your account manager or retrospective rating representative.

Common COVID-19 FAQs from Employers

Will coronavirus (COVID-19) claims impact an employer’s experience modification factor and claim-free discount (if applicable)?

No. All losses for allowed coronavirus claims, regardless of whether the virus is contracted, will not be included in the determination of an employer’s experience modification factor. An employer will not lose their claim free discount as a result of an allowed coronavirus claim.

What will the impact to retrospective rating calculations be for losses from coronavirus claims?

It’s important that the claims included in experience factor calculation, retrospective rating adjustments, and for rating purposes align. Therefore, the losses for allowed coronavirus claims will not be included in the retro adjustment calculations.

If an employer has a worker on temporary light duty and their business is closed due to the pandemic, is the worker eligible for time-loss benefits? Will these losses be included in the employer’s experience factor?

The worker is eligible for time-loss benefits unless the employer chooses to keep them on salary. The law is clear in situations where temporary or transitional light-duty work comes to an end, regardless of the reason it’s ending. The law recognizes that these workers are restricted from being able to perform their regular employment or jobs, other than the light-duty one.

Only losses for allowed coronavirus claims are being removed from the experience factor calculations.

Does an employer need to report hours when their business is closed during the pandemic, or when a worker is continuing to be paid or kept on salary but notactually working?

If an employer continues to pay a worker while their business is closed during a coronavirus quarantine, or to maintain the worker’s salary on an open claim, if the worker is not actually working the hours don’t need to be reported.

  • If you have hourly workers who are continuing to be paid and not working as a result of the pandemic, you are not required to report hours and premium for the time they are not working.
  • If you have salaried workers reporting actual hours worked (hourly method), continue to do so.
  • If you have salaried workers and report 480 hours per quarter (salary method), you may report the actual hours they worked.

Note: regardless of how you report, you are required to keep a record of these non-work hours in your payroll system. Please refer to WAC 296-17-35201 for recordkeeping and retention.

Contact Information for RETRO Employers

If you have further questions regarding reporting, contact your account manager at 360-902-4817.

Retrospective Rating Program 
WA State Department of Labor & Industries 
PO Box 44180 
Olympia, Washington US  98504-4180 
Retro@Lni.wa.gov  
360-902-4851  voice 
360-902-4258  fax 

Prior Posts on Related Topics

New COVID-19 Portal for Frontline Workers

King County, WA has added a new COVID-19 portal for healthcare workers and first responders who need Coronavirus testing and are having difficulty obtaining the test. This portal, with speedy response time, will assist these workers in getting the care they need. It will also assist them in filing workers’ compensation claims.

Seattle and King County Public Health’s Notice:

Assistance for first responders and health care workers

If you are a first responder or a health care worker and are currently experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, and cannot access testing through your health care provider or occupational health, please fill out this online form for assistance. We will try to respond within 24 hours.

WA State Provides Workers’ Compensation Coverage

Seattle and King County Public Health’s new COVID-19 portal will help first responders and healthcare workers get the testing they need. This testing may result in a period of quarantine and medical treatment. A workers’ compensation claim may need to be filed if compensation for lost wages is needed.

Governor Inslee announced workers’ compensation coverage for quarantined health workers/first responders on March 5, 2020. The expanded coverage takes effect immediately and covers eligible workers already under quarantine.

“These health care workers and first responders are protecting our communities. They need to know that we have their backs. This is the right thing to do.”

– Governor Jay Inslee

The Department of Labor and Industries can pay time loss compensation to these workers during their period of quarantine. However, the Governor encouraged employers to keep these workers on their payroll to avoid the financial hit that comes with any worker’s receipt of time loss compensation under a claim.

Benefits Under a Claim

Workers’ compensation coverage can include medical testing, cover treatment expenses if a worker becomes ill or injured and provide time-loss payments for those who cannot work if they are sick or quarantined. A claim can also include benefits should death occur due to the virus.

Workers can file a workers’ compensation claim up to two years after being exposed to a disease at work.

Our suggestion to those that are diagnosed with COVID-19, and believe that they were exposed to the Coronavirus on the job, especially as a healthcare worker or first responder, is to file a claim with the Department of Labor and Industries.

How to File a Workers’ Compensation Claim

A claim can be:

  • Filed online
  • By phone: 1-877-561-FILE (3453)
  • Through your doctor’s office

As with any claim decision, the Department of Labor and Industries will issue an Order and Notice stating whether your claim is allowed or denied. You will have sixty (60) days within which to file a written protest or appeal if you disagree with the decision. A protest can be faxed, mailed or submitted to the Department online. If no protest or appeal is filed within 60 days from the date you received the order, the decision becomes final and binding on all parties.

Prior Posts with Related Content
Contact Us for More Information

We hope this information about Seattle and King County Public Health’s new COVID-19 portal is helpful, to you or your friends and family members.

If you have any questions, either before filing a claim or if a claim should be denied, please feel free to contact our firm for assistance. We offer a free case analysis, and would be happy to discuss the circumstances you are facing with you.

CARES Act Stimulus Payments

Congress passed a law, HR 748, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or the CARES Act, on March 27, 2020. The CARES Act, among other things, grants an automatic tax rebate to most people. Section 2201 of HR 748 details payments to individuals.

What Are the Stimulus Payments?

The CARES Act refers to these payments as tax rebates. The Treasury Department calls them Economic Impact Payments, as does the IRS. I call them stimulus payments, as do many media sources.

They are essentially an automatic tax rebate which is paid irrespective of whether a person actually paid taxes. There are three stated disqualified classes: nonresident aliens, dependents, and trusts/estates. This leaves a broad range of people that potentially will receive the payments in the near future.

Who Will Get a Payment? Who May Not?

Social Security recipients will automatically receive the stimulus payments. For others, the IRS advises people who receive disability benefits but do not ordinarily file taxes to file a special return.

However, for those individuals whose only source of income in both 2018 and 2019 were time loss or workers’ compensation pension benefits – which are non-taxable benefits – the CARES Act does not clearly state whether those individuals are eligible to receive the tax rebate payment.

Should I File a Tax Return?

We believe there is no downside or risk for individuals who receive only workers’ compensation benefits to file a special tax return. If you have questions about how to characterize or claim your benefits on a special tax return, we suggest you contact a tax professional.

How Much Can I Expect to Receive?

The amount is subject to adjustment upward or downward depending on filing status, income, and number of dependents. For most people, the calculation of, and eligibility for, these payments will be based on their 2019 or 2018 tax returns. 


Where Can I Get More Information?

The IRS has provided some guidance on it’s coronavirus website, with the clear instruction to not call the IRS but to check back frequently for updates. I will be paying attention to IRS rulemaking in the next several weeks. You should also periodically check in on the IRS website for further information.

I have reached out to house members and senators for Washington State for clarification. I am closely monitoring the rule making process. We will do our best to keep you informed on any changes. 

Recent Posts on This Topic

CW IS WORKING FROM HOME

DLI NEWS: CORONAVIRUS ON THE JOB

DLI News: Telehealth Update

Washington State Department of Labor and Industries has issued a Telehealth Update. The changes are introduced, on a temporary basis, in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

TeleSIMP and Telerehab Payment Policies Now Available 

Effective March 25, 2020, Labor and Industries (L&I) is temporarily allowing Structured Intensive Multidisciplinary Program (SIMP) services to be delivered as part of telehealth. This Telehealth Update is part of L&I’s Chronic Pain Management payment policy. This temporary TeleSIMP policy allows SIMP services to continue, while helping to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak by reducing in-person appointments. SIMP providers may use telehealth to deliver certain services for workers enrolled in their program. This policy isn’t intended to replace Chapter 34: Chronic Pain Management.

Effective March 20, 2020, L&I is also temporarily allowing the delivery of rehabilitation services using telehealth, called telerehab. Physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech language pathologists may use telehealth to delivery services for established patients in outpatient settings.

L&I’s current payment policy and fee schedule already covers phone calls between providers and workers, see Chapter 10: Evaluation and Management Services for more details.

Both of these temporary policies will allow the use of the worker’s home as an origination site when they are receiving services. See L&I’s Temporary Telehealth Payment Policy for additional details. 

Updates and corrections are periodically posted on L&I’s Medical Aid Rules and Fee Schedules website. Both of these policies are available here.

Please note: a temporary telehealth policy is under consideration for brain injury rehabilitation services. If adopted, a future Telehealth Update will be issued.

Questions on the payment policies? Contact L&I at HPPM@lni.wa.gov

Prior Post About Telehealth Services

DLI NEWS: TELEHEALTH VISITS

Kristen Wolf’s WFH Story

Almost all of the Causey Wright team is working from home in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. We will periodically share stories and pictures from our staff about their work-from-home experience. Today, we hear Paralegal Kristen Wolf‘s work from home story.

Kit Case, Editor

You can read more about Kristen on our website at CauseyWright.com.

Pictured is my primary workspace, with my slacker of a colleague, Cody. I intermittently move over to my kitchen counter, which I use as a standing work station.

I miss the whole CW team, the beautiful new office space, and having in-person meetings with clients and potential clients. Other than that, some technology glitches, and my colleague’s occasional need to bark at anything that moves, I’m hanging in there!

I find it helps to keep as normal a daily routine as possible. I get up and go for a walk or do my at-home workout, shower and have breakfast, log in and start work at 8:30, lunch break from noon – 1:00 (which typically includes a walk), work through the afternoon with a couple mini-breaks, and log off at 5:00. I take another walk, do some yard work, or just sit outside to make the transition from the work day to personal time.

Read one of Kristen Wolf’s prior blog posts:

AIRPORT 101: BIRDS, PLANES, AND HONEYBEES

Cargill: Making Salt For a Living

As a scuba diver, I have had the pleasure of visiting Bonaire and seeing the Cargill Solar Salt Works operations. The sights and sounds of an industrial workplace caught my attention. It’s just another day at the salt mine!

Kit Case, Editor

Cargill is making salt in paradise on the island of Bonaire. A Dutch Caribbean island, Bonaire lies about 50 miles north of the Venezuelan coast. It is home to the Solar Salt Works of Bonaire.

Cargill has operated the Solar Salt Works on Bonaire since 1997, and employs roughly 40 workers. The site, on the flat south end of Bonaire, covers about 13% of the small island’s 115 square mile area.

Salt Production is a Modern Process

Abundant sunshine, an arid climate and near-constant trade winds make the process of making salt relatively fast. It takes two to three months from the time the seawater enters the salt flats until the salt crystals are ready for harvest.

Solar evaporation is a process that has been around for centuries. Salt water is collected in ponds and, as evaporation occurs, the level of salinity increases. Modern salt production involves the use of pumps to move the water closer to the harvesting site as the salinity levels rise. Once the salt is ready for harvest, heavy equipment is used to transfer the salt from the water to piles for drying. Once dry, the salt is again moved into large piles alongside the conveyor system that extends out along the salt pier. Ships arrive from ports near and far to load the brilliantly-white salt aboard.

My husband, both diver and photographer, captivated by the salt piles.

Like a mini-mountain range, the piles of harvested salt are a lovely site. Tourists pull off the road to snap photos. Scuba divers love diving on the salt pier whenever no ships are in port to load salt.

Salt Ponds are Wetlands

The salt ponds also contain habitat for flamingos and terns. Cargill has taken steps to set aside and protect these habitats, as well as providing community support for projects outside of the ponds.

Cargill partners Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire to protect sea turtle nesting sites. It also works with STINAPA, which manages the Bonaire Marine Park, protecting the coral reef around the island to a depth of 200 feet, and the inland Washington Slagbaai National Park. 

Cargill’s solar salt works is a major employer, a tourist destination, and a community partner on the island of Bonaire. Read more about Cargill’s operations on Bonaire, here.

History of Salt Production on Bonaire

The story goes that the Spaniards began harvesting salt on Bonaire beginning in 1499. I’m sure the local Bonaireans were doing so long before that. The Spaniards did not initially inhabit the island, but used it as a hitching post on their trail of maritime commerce.

They harvested the mesquite forests for charcoal fuel, and left animals on the island. Goats were self-sufficient and hearty and were slaughtered, salted and used as meat provisions on the Spanish sailing vessels. Donkeys were brought as the heavy equipment of the time.

Later, as with many of the Caribbean islands, people from Africa were captured, enslaved, and brought to the island. They worked and lived in horrid conditions. Several of the slave quarter buildings remain on the island, some relatively intact and others mere ruins. Bonaire makes an effort to educate about the plight of the slaves that worked on the island. There are signs at each location that make it clear that whole families lived in the tiny slave huts by the sea.

Bonaire Marker
Modern dock next to historic range marker for guiding mariners safely to shore.

Prior post about solar installation projects closer to home:

PORT OF SEATTLE TAKES ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND SUSTAINABILITY

DLI News: Telehealth Visits

Temporary Telehealth Visits Payment Policy 

To help support containment of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Department of Labor and Industries has issued a new temporary telehealth visits policy. This temporary telehealth policy allows medical providers to use the worker’s home as an origination site in some instances to treat injured workers. This policy is effective 3/9/2020, and expires 7/3/2020. This is an emerging situation, and this policy may be updated as needed.

L&I’s current payment policy and fee schedule already covers phone calls between providers and workers, and telehealth visits when provided at a medical origination site. Please see the DLI Fact Sheet for more details of the current policy: LI Telehealth Fact Sheet AUG 2019.pdf

The new temporary policy will stipulate the following: 

  1. In addition to providing telehealth services under the current payment policy, providers who can normally provide telehealth services using video remote technologies may now bill the following CPT© evaluation and management codes with home as an origination site: 
    1. 99211
    2. 99212
    3. 99213
  2. The documentation requirements will follow the Department payment policy established in Medical Aid Rules and Fee Schedules (MARFS) Chapter 10: Evaluation and Management Services. Under this temporary measure, providers will be required to include a note about the emergency situation (limiting exposure to COVID-19, in this case) that prompted this encounter, as well as noting that the originating site of the worker is home.
  3. Providers are encouraged to implement their clinic’s emergency response plan.

On July 3, 2020, the temporary L&I emergency telehealth policy is scheduled to end, unless the Department decides an extension is needed. This is an emerging situation, and this policy may be updated as needed.

Policy Does Not Provide Equipment to Workers

Additionally, the temporary policy will state that L&I will not provide the worker with or reimburse the worker for equipment. If a worker doesn’t have access to high-speed internet via computer or a camera phone with reliable connectivity, the provider must work with the worker to identify an alternative.

Instructions to Claims Managers re: Time Loss Payments

Claims Administration has decided to instruct claim managers not to automatically stop time loss benefits if the restrictions on an APF expire because the worker was unable to be seen in person due to COVID-19 precautions. Claim managers will be advised to assess each case and staff with their supervisor and/or ONC to decide how best to manage the claim during the period of the forthcoming temporary policy.

Questions on the payment policy after it’s published? Contact us at HPPM@Lni.wa.gov.  

If you have questions or concerns about your claim, feel free to contact our firm for assistance. We provide a free case analysis and would be happy to discuss your circumstances with you.

Prior Post with Related Content

CONTACT AN ATTORNEY EARLY IN YOUR CASE FOR THE BEST CHANCE AT A FAIR OUTCOME

DLI News: Coronavirus On The Job

Governor Jay Inslee and and L&I Director Joel Sacks issued a press release concerning the Department’s policy on workers’ compensation coverage related to exposures to Coronavirus on the job.

The primary news is for health care workers and first responders who are quarantined by a physician or public health officer.  Under the clarified policy, workers’ compensation benefits must be provided benefits to these workers during the time they’re quarantined after being exposed to COVID-19 on the job.  The policy also applies to others who may have accepted claims for exposure to COVID-19; for example, those who are not considered health care workers but are working in facilities with documented exposures or others whose claims may be approved.

As a reminder, answers to the following questions must be considered for workers who file claims and are not working in jobs or at facilities where exposure would be routinely expected:

Was there an increased risk or greater likelihood of exposure or contracting the disease due to the worker’s occupation (first responders or health care workers)?

If not for their job, would the worker have been exposed or contracted the condition?

Can the worker identify a specific source or event during their employment that resulted in exposure to COVID-19/Coronavirus on the job?

When exposure to or contraction of the disease is incidental to the workplace or common to all employment (for example, an office worker who may have been exposed through a fellow employee, or a waitress through a customer), the claim will likely be denied.

How to File, and What to Do if Your Claim is Denied

Our suggestion to those that are diagnosed with COVID-19, and believe that they were exposed to the Coronavirus on the job, especially as a healthcare worker or first responder, is to file a claim with the Department of Labor and Industries. A claim can be:

  • Filed online
  • By phone: 1-877-561-FILE (3453)
  • At your doctor’s office (if you complete the Report of Accident at your doctor’s office, the doctor files the form for you)

You can watch a DLI video that describes the process for filing a claim if you need more information about the process.

As with any claim decision, the Department of Labor and Industries will issue an Order and Notice stating that your claim was denied. You have sixty (60) days within which to file a written protest or appeal if you disagree with the decision. A protest can be faxed, mailed or submitted to the Department online. If no protest or appeal is filed within 60 days from the date you received the order, the decision becomes final and binding on all parties.

If you have questions or if your claim should be denied, please feel free to contact our firm for assistance. We offer a free case analysis, and would be happy to discuss the circumstances you are facing with you.

Prior Posts Related to Occupational Expsoures

HANFORD VAPOR LITIGATION RESOLVED THROUGH SETTLEMENT

FLIGHT ATTENDANTS MAY FACE INCREASED RISK FOR MANY CANCERS

Published by Causey Wright