Both Boeing and Alaska Airlines announced layoffs due, in large part, to the downturn in air travel as a result of the pandemic.
We wrote a prior article about the initial rounds of layoffs and incentivized early retirements at Boeing. Now, a new round of layoffs has been announced.
Boeing notified Washington State through its Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) system of the upcoming layoffs. Effective October 2, 2020, it is reported that another 940 employees will face permanent layoff.
The Aerospace Machinists union, IAM 751, states that about 1/3 of their members that received WARN letters were reWARNs, meaning the member was already holding a WARN notice, effectively extending their layoff date to October 2nd from their earlier notice.
Alaska Airlines Layoffs
The Hill reported on the recent WARN notice from Alaska Airlines, excerpted below. Read the full post, here.
Alaska Airlines warned that almost 1,600 Washington state employees could be permanently laid off in the fall. The airline plans to begin letting a portion of its employees go, starting on Oct. 1, the day after the government’s Payroll Support Program terminates.
The expected layoffs in Washington state represent 20 percent of Alaska Airlines’s workforce in the area, including customer service agents, maintenance technicians and flight attendants.
The Seattle Times also reported on the fact that Boeing and Alaska Airlines announced layoffs. Read the full report about Alaska Airlines, excerpted below, here.
We have received questions about teachers, school openings and workers’ compensation in light of the Coronavirus. Many teachers are worried about returning to the classroom. Workers’ compensation benefits may be available if teachers get sick in the classroom.
Reopening of Schools for 2020-2021 School Year
In Washington State, Governor Inslee is leaving the decision of when and how to reopen schools to the districts to decide. “We’ve got to give the districts some time to really to think about what works for them rather than dictating to them a one-size-fits-all solution,” Inslee said.
Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Juneau is recommending to the School Board that Seattle Public Schools start the 2020-21 school year remotely. They would follow the remote instruction model until the risk of significant transmission of COVID-19 has decreased enough to resume in-person instruction. The School Board will vote on Superintendent Juneau’s recommendation and an associated plan for Fall 2020 on August 12.
Teachers, as well as other workers that might be considered essential, do not have a presumption of coverage at this time. However, workers’ compensation claims have and should be filed if workers come down with COVID-19. The Department of Labor and Industries has acknowledged processing claims filed for COVID-19.
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 for permanent impairment or should death occur due to the virus.
Our suggestion to those that are diagnosed with COVID-19, and believe that they were exposed to the Coronavirus on the job, including teachers as well as other workers, is to file a claim with the Department of Labor and Industries. Workers can file a workers’ compensation claim up to two years after being exposed to a disease at work.
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.
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.
Fitness gym in Yakima County receives first Safe Start citation, fined nearly $10K for operating in violation of governor’s order.
The Department of Labor and Industries (DLI) has issued the first Safe Start citation against an employer for ignoring the Governor’s Safe Start order. DLI’s press release states that Bradshaw Development, Inc. , owner of Anytime Fitness Selah, was cited after DLI inspectors found the gym open for business on June 15th, when it should’ve been closed under the governor’s order.
The governor’s Safe Start proclamation prohibits most businesses from operating unless their county is in the appropriate phase of the statewide plan to reopen their economy and other aspects of daily living. Anytime Fitness Selah is in Yakima County, one of the state’s most active areas for coronavirus (COVID-19) infections. The county remains in Phase 1, the most restrictive tier of the four-phase state plan.
DLI inspected the Selah facility after receiving multiple complaints from the public and a referral from the Yakima Health District that Anytime Fitness was operating in violation of the governor’s proclamation. Before DLI conducted the inspection, state workers contacted the business multiple times; they informed the business about the order and directed it to close.
The state had received 13 complaints since May about Anytime Fitness Selah. People submitting complaints said the gym allowed customers to work out without requiring social distancing, was selling new memberships, and was posting on social media that it was open.
In an email to the governor’s office, a Yakima Health District official said numerous community members were reporting that the fitness center was open and that a staff member drove by and saw the building was packed with customers.
DLI notified Anytime Fitness Selah about the requirement to close to the public in a phone call, email, letter, and inspection. The citation is a “willful general” violation, meaning the employer knew about the safety requirements, but refused to follow them.
When inspectors went to the facility on June 15th, they saw several employees working, as well as customers entering and using the facility.
Exposing workers to COVID-19
Operating and serving customers during Phase 1 exposes Anytime Fitness Selah workers to an unacceptable risk of coronavirus exposure, according to the citation from DLI’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH).
Along with being cited for the violation, the business faces a $9,639 fine. The business had until July 5 to close or 15 working days to appeal.
“Our primary focus is making sure employers do everything possible to prevent their workers from being exposed to the coronavirus,” said DLI Director Joel Sacks. “In this case, Anytime Fitness Selah was clearly aware it was operating in defiance of the governor’s order and putting employees at risk. They chose to stay open even after multiple contacts with DLI. And, it’s just not fair to businesses that are following the rules when others don’t.”
Businesses given several chances to comply
By the time DLI receives a Safe Start referral from the state Emergency Operations Center (EOC) team, the business has already been contacted by phone and, when possible, by email to ensure they understand the Safe Start rules. In most cases, businesses comply.
If employers say they won’t follow the rules or DLI receives more complaints, the department sends a letter warning that they could be fined if they remain open. Inspectors may later drive by the businesses to make sure they’re complying. If they’re open, the case is referred to a DOSH investigator, who inspects the work site in person and may issue a citation.
Other Safe Start violations under review
Through June 26th, DLI staff working at the state EOC had contacted more than 400 businesses about complaints filed about their operations. The staff have given businesses guidance and answered questions when possible. The team still has approximately 1,300 businesses to contact about possible Safe Start violations.
People who believe a business is violating Safe Start rules can report it online.
A 3% pay raise previously approved by the legislature and set to take effect as of July 1st has been cancelled. The cancellation effects roughly 5,600 State employees. According to a press release, the raises will be canceled “for agency directors, Exempt Management Service and Washington Management Service employees, and all other exempt employees who earn more than $53,000 annually.”
Governor Inslee also directed all cabinet agencies in Washington State to take furlough days as a result of the state budget shortfall related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately 40,000 State employees will be impacted by the furloughs.
There will be scheduled weekly furlough days in July and monthly furlough days through November. In addition, employees are encouraged to take additional voluntary furlough days. Starting this week, DLI will begin this process.
DLI Closures Due to State Furloughs
Many DLI employees will go on furlough one day per week through July 25 and will not answer phone calls or emails. DLI’s Tumwater and field office locations will be closed on the furlough days, as well.
The schedule for closure days during the month of July is as follows:
•Thurs., July 2 (we’ll also be closed Fri., July 3 to observe Independence Day). •Fri., July 10. •Fri., July 17. •Fri., July 24.
There will also be closures due to State furloughs beyond the month of July. Many employees also must take a furlough day once a month from August to November. Specific dates have not been determined.
“We remain committed to keeping Washington safe and working, and our services vital to public health and safety – DOSH, Electrical Inspections, workers’ compensation benefits – remain operational during furlough days.“
Anne F. Soiza L&I Assistant Director, WA State Department of Labor and Industries
Temporary changes to Department policy are already in place in response to the pandemic. Workers that are unable to work due to an injury should continue to receive benefits without significant delay or interruption from the closures due to State furloughs.
If you have questions about your workers’ compensation claim, feel free to contact our firm. We offer a free case analysis and stand ready to assist you when you need help.
The Department of Labor and Industries (DLI) developed the COVID-19 temporary interpreter services payment policy to ensure meaningful access to interpreter services to support the safety and health of their clients during the pandemic. This policy allows in-person interpreters the option of providing video or telephone interpretation. The original COVID-19 Temporary Policy expiration of July 3, 2020, has been extended until June 30, 2021.
DLI says it is continuously evaluating the effectiveness of these policies to help injured workers heal and return to work. In the event DLI determines it is appropriate to either end or extend these policies, we will send an advanced notice through this messaging service.
Interpreter services are a covered benefit for all injured workers, including self-insured and crime victims, who have an open and allowed claim. DLI will not reimburse interpreters who are family or friends of the worker, or for any legal purposes, such as attorney appointments, legal conferences, depositions, or testimony at the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals, or any court.
Questions about your workers’ compensation claim? We are happy to discuss your case with you. We can work with a friend or family member to interpret for you. We also work with certified interpreters and can make a referral, if needed.
Exposure to the Coronavirus, development of COVID-19 and workers’ compensation can be connected. In some cases, workers with COVID-19 may be able to file a workers’ compensation claim in Washington State. Allowance of a claim is possible as an occupational disease according to the Department of Labor and Industries, which generally means that there must be something “distinctive” about the type of employment in which the individual is exposed to the virus (as opposed to simply a coincidental exposure).
COVID-19 Pandemic is Ongoing in Washington State
The Coronavirus is highly contagious and easily transmissible. It is now present throughout the country, with some areas more saturated than others. Although the overall case numbers in Washington State are better than many other states, we have not yet bent the curve to bring case numbers down to baseline. Instead, most areas are holding steady in the mid-range of our case numbers. Some areas, such as Yakima County, remain hotspots.
Governor Inslee recently visited Yakima County to address the county’s high rate of infection. The rate of transmission reflects the number of people each infected person would be expected to transmit the virus to, with a rate of 1 or fewer allowing for a decline in cases or over 1 an expansion of cases.
The Yakima Health District said that Yakima County’s transmission rate was 2 to 2.5 while Western Washington’s rate is under 1, according to reporting by the Yakima Herald. The rate of COVID-19 spread in Yakima County is 27 times that of King County, the state’s largest county, per the Governor’s press release about his visit.
Governor Inslee recently announced that he intended to make mask-wearing mandatory in Yakima County to help curb the spread of COVID-19. No word yet as to how Yakima County’s “constitutional sheriff” Robert Udell will enforce a mask-wearing order, which he has previously suggested would violate some inchoate constitutional provision.
In King County, where our firm is located, we have only just entered Phase Two of reopening. Our case numbers have ticked back up a bit in recent days. Steps are being taken here to reinforce the message that precautions still need to be taken as more businesses reopen.
Occupational Disease Claims Explained
An occupational disease claim covers workers who develop a health condition due to exposure to substances, diseases, or injurious conditions on the job. An occupational disease claim can cover a variety of conditions that result from repetitive micro-traumas, such as physical injuries due to overuse, exposures to infectious agents, or exposures to toxic substances.
In order for such a claim to be allowed, the Department of Labor and Industries needs to find that the claimed medical condition resulted from exposure on the job, on a more-probable-than-not basis. In addition, that exposure must be due to “distinctive conditions” of employment. This does not necessarily mean that there is a higher prevalence of an injury or medical condition arising from your type of employment than there is in the general labor market overall, just that some distinctive aspect of your job led to the exposure/overexertion.
As an example, nurses and other medical professionals are exposed to various diseases and infections on a daily basis, in spite of the numerous precautions against infection taken by hospitals and doctors’ offices to prevent the spread of disease. Conversely, many people in all walks of life may be exposed to individuals with transmissible diseases or infections, but in the case of the medical professional, their job distinctly places them in the path of infection as compared to the general public or all employments generally.
Coronavirus, COVID-19 and Workers’ Compensation Claims
Workers with significant exposures on-the-job, or with specific conditions of their employment exposing them to the virus, could file a claim and potentially receive benefits. With exposure to the Coronavirus rather commonplace within our communities, the connection between work exposure and development of COVID-19 must be direct and clear in order for a claim to be allowed. In the case of the Coronavirus, while you do not necessarily need to identify the specific patient or person to whom you were exposed, the ability to show that your job involved exposure to known cases of the virus would probably be required.
Washington State has issued guidance for the Department of Labor and Industries (DLI) that there should be a presumption that the onset of COVID-19 is related to work exposures for some frontline workers, including healthcare workers and medical professionals. If a period of quarantine is medically necessary, the workers’ compensation claim would pay time loss compensation for these workers, even if they are not ill, for up to 14 days.
Other frontline workers, especially those performing essential services in high-risk environments, could also be entitled to benefits under a workers’ compensation claim. For claimants working in jobs not explicitly covered under the presumption of work relatedness, each claim will be reviewed on an individual, case-by-case basis. Specific criteria must be met for a claim to be allowed.
Unfortunately, although DLI’s guidance is great news for frontline healthcare workers, for most other people the guidance incorrectly states the legal standard for allowing an occupational disease claim. For instance, DLI suggests that there must be “an increased risk or greater likelihood of contracting the condition” in the person’s particular employment. The Washington State Supreme Court has rejected the “increased risk” test (elsewhere referred to as the “positional risk” doctrine) in several cases, most recently in Street v. Weyerhaeuser, 189 Wn. 2d 187, 200-01 (2018).
If you believe you have been exposed to the Coronavirus and developed COVID-19 due to an on-the-job exposure, you should contact an attorney. If you have questions about COVID-19 and workers’ compensation, our firm is available to assist you.
Benefits Under a Workers’ Compensation Claim
The benefits available would include time loss compensation for the days the worker is unable to work due to quarantine or illness. The claim would cover the cost of allowed medical treatment. In many cases, if there is no onset of symptoms or recovery from illness happens quickly, there may be relatively little compensation paid under a claim.
In some cases, people face hospitalization and extended periods of recovery. In King County, current data shows that 16.8% of positive cases require hospitalization. The King County daily summary dashboard provides statistics about testing numbers and rates for positive results, hospitalizations and deaths. The graph displays data for the county overall as well as by city. Closer inspection reveals that the rates for positive test results, hospitalizations and deaths are better – and worse – in different parts of the county.
Medical expenses can quickly add up, and time lost from work may be greater than one would expect.
Permanent Impairment After COVID-19
In most cases, there are no lasting effects that remain after recovery from COVID-19. However, it is now becoming clear that there can be permanent effects from COVID-19 in some cases, even for people who recover without the need for hospitalization.
If there is permanent residual impairment after COVID-19, an allowed workers’ compensation claim would provide a monetary impairment award once the claim closes. The most common reported permanent effects are connected to impaired lung function. There are also reports of stroke, kidney, liver and heart conditions that remain after recovery from COVID-19.
Impairment awards paid at claim closure are based on ratings of permanent impairment made by a physician. For injury to internal organs, the State uses a category system for rating impairment. Each category relates to a set of symptoms present, with higher categories compensating for higher levels of impairment due to greater loss of function.
In the rare case where death results, the worker’s family could receive a burial benefit and compensation for the loss of life due to the work exposure and illness.
Filing a Claim for COVID-19
For those that are diagnosed with COVID-19 that were significantly exposed to the Coronavirus on-the-job, a claim may be filed with the Department of Labor and Industries. A claim can be filed:
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 generally describes the process for filing a claim if you need more information about the steps to be taken.
More Information and Resources
DLI has a page of information and links to resources dedicated to answering questions about COVID-19 and workers’ compensation. This includes questions raised by employers and businesses, injured workers whose non-COVID claims have been impacted by the social changes brought on by the virus, as well as workers who believe they have developed COVID-19 through work exposure.
The Washington Department of Health has a COVID-19 Information Line: 1-800-525-0127. Phone lines are staffed from 6 am – 10 pm. Interpreter services are available in multiple languages.
Our intent in sharing this information is not to spur a flood of baseless claim filing. The truth is that exposure to the Coronavirus on the job could have a significant impact on a worker and their family. In those rare circumstances where the facts line up to support allowance of a claim, the benefits available under a workers’ compensation claim could help to alleviate this impact.
If you have questions about COVID-19 and workers’ compensation, or if your claim was denied, please feel free to contact our firm. We offer a free case analysis, and would be happy to discuss your specific circumstances with you.
As King County enters Phase Two, many workers will be returning to their jobs. King County entered Phase Two of the Safe Start plan for reopening on June 19th. Under the Safe Start plan, many more types of businesses can reopen in some fashion. Read the full notice, here.
Some of the types of businesses that can reopen as King County enters Phase Two include:
Card rooms: All card rooms are subject to Phase 2 guidance which generally restricts the card room designated area to the lesser of 25% capacity or 50 individuals. The restaurants or taverns area of the facility is required to follow the Phase 2 guidance, which restricts capacity to 50% and prohibits bar service. Games are also limited to 25% occupancy per table. Limitations on capacity does not include staff.
Restaurants and taverns: All restaurant and tavern operations are subject to Phase 2 guidance which prohibits any bar seating and restricts indoor customer occupancy to 50% of a building’s occupancy or lower as determined by the fire code. Outdoor dining is allowed at 50% of capacity and does not count toward the building occupancy limit; additional outdoor seating will be allowed provided it follows Public Health – Seattle & King County’s best practices and a restaurant secures any municipal permit that may be required.
Real estate (residential and commercial): All real estate activities are subject to Phase 2 guidance which generally restricts out of office activities to appointment only and with no more than three people; office activities require reservations for in-person customer services and guest occupancy is limited to 50% of a building’s occupancy.
Personal services: Includes Cosmetologists, Hairstylists, Barbers, Estheticians, Master Estheticians, Manicurists, Nail Salon Workers, Electrologists, Permanent Makeup Artists, Tattoo Artists, Cosmetology Schools and Esthetics Schools. Limitations: All personal services are subject to Phase 2 guidance which restricts customer occupancy to 50% with the exception of one to one services in an enclosed room.
Domestic services: Includes any worker (hourly, salaried, independent contractor, full-time, part-time, or temporary) who is paid by one or more employer and provides domestic services to an individual or household in/about a private home as a nanny, house cleaner, cook, private chef, or household manager. Limitations: All domestic services are subject to Phase 2 guidance.
New workplace mask guidance helps determine Which Mask for Which Task
Most workers in Washington have to wear a mask or face covering at work under new coronavirus workplace safety and health requirements that took effect June 8th.
With some exceptions, workers must wear some type of face covering or mask to help limit the spread of the coronavirus to those around them. Other higher-risk jobs may require respirators to protect the worker from infection by patients or clients.
Under the requirements, employers must provide the face coverings and masks to employees at no charge. Workers can bring their own face coverings and masks as well, as long as they meet requirements.
Which mask for which task
The new Department of Labor & Industries (DLI) guidance document describes various types of jobs based on the level of risk to workers, from negligible risk to extremely high. The publication spells out which face-covering, mask, or respirator is required for that task.
Along with details about the appropriate protective face covering, the guidance also includes photos to help workers and employers identify the type of mask required.
“We know that choosing the correct face covering, mask or respirator can be confusing. It’s a new experience for most employers and people on the job,” said DLI Assistant Director Anne Soiza. “This guidance should help employers and workers understand the risk level for various tasks, and make the right choice to protect workers from the coronavirus. Employers needing assistance can call on our statewide consultants for help.”
Exceptions to mask requirements
There are some limited exceptions to the workplace requirements for masks and face coverings. For example, someone working alone in an office, vehicle, or at a jobsite with no in-person interactions is not required to wear a face covering or mask.
Other exceptions include workers who are deaf or hard of hearing, or a person on the job who communicates with someone who relies on language cues such as facial markers and expression and mouth movements as a part of communication. A worker with a medical condition or disability that makes wearing a facial covering inappropriate is also exempt from the requirement.
New training and information
DLI has developed a training template that employers can use to meet requirements to train employees about coronavirus. It covers numerous topics including symptoms, transmission, face coverings and worker rights. The training is available in English and Spanish online.
All Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals appeal proceedings will be by remote access through July. The Board has extended the period of time that Board offices will remain closed to the public due to the Coronavirus.
If you have proceedings set through July 3rd, there should be no need to change them. Any court proceedings scheduled as in-person events during the July 3 – July 31 extension period will need to be addressed.
Board judges will typically handle proceedings by telephone conference calls. In certain circumstances, the judge may opt for video conferencing using a third-party service, CourtCall. This is usually for the purpose of hearings, where evidence and testimony is presented, rather than more informal procedural events.
Conferences and Hearings to Be Adjusted
Board judges will reach out to those parties with events in July. The judge will ask if they can convert the proceedings from live to remote-access events. In the event that a party is aggrieved that the appeal proceedings will be remote, a request can be made for the case to be continued to a later date. This would most likely be in the case of a hearing. This decision is at the judge’s discretion. Any rescheduled event date is subject to the availability of the judges and parties and will likely cause a delay in proceedings.
More Information and Assistance
Appeal proceedings will be by remote access through July 31st. More information about this process can be found on the Board’s website. If you have an appeal pending, you may also contact the judge assigned to your case, or their assistant.
We often suggest that claimants have legal representation when their case is on appeal. This may be especially true when appeal proceedings will be remote access. Feel free to contact our firm for assistance with your case. We offer a free analysis of your case and will give you our opinion on whether you need legal assistance, or not, and how we recommend you proceed.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued guidance for rideshare, taxi, and car service workers. This guidance is meant to provide both workers and passengers with increased safety during the Coronavirus pandemic. In addition, OSHA has provided guidance for drivers transporting medical patients with known or suspected COVID-19.
Guidance for Employers in the Car Service Industry
For employers in the car service industry (rideshare, taxi, and other car services), the following tips can help reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus:
Encourage drivers to stay home if they are sick.
Ensure vehicle door handles and inside surfaces are routinely cleaned and disinfected with Environmental Protection Agency-approved cleaning chemicals from List N or that have label claims against the coronavirus.
Advise drivers to lower vehicle windows to increase airflow.
Allow drivers to wear masks over their nose and mouth to prevent spread of the virus, and ask customers to do the same.
Provide alcohol-based hand rubs containing at least 60 percent alcohol for both drivers and customers.
Provide drivers with disposable towels and Environmental Protection Agency-approved cleaning chemicals from List N or that have label claims against the coronavirus for disinfecting surfaces.
Provide drivers and customers with tissues and trash receptacles.
Limit the number of passengers drivers can transport at a single time, and install plexiglass partitions between driver and passenger compartments where possible.
Encourage drivers to report any safety and health concerns.
Special Precautions for Drivers Transporting Patients to Health Care Facilities
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also provides guidance for rideshare, taxi, and car service workers. OSHA considers “Medical transport workers (e.g., ambulance vehicle operators) moving known or suspected COVID-19 patients in enclosed vehicles” to be at high risk for exposure.
If you are transporting medical customers, take the following precautions:
Be sure to have alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol content and use it often.
It is recommended that you wear personal protective equipment, such as disposable gloves and a face mask. It is important to replace your disposable gloves and face mask after every medical customer.
If you are transporting a patient that is known to or is suspected to have COVID-19, OSHA recommends that you wear a respirator. You may also want to wear a gown and a face shield or goggles if you help customers in and out of the car.
After helping a medical passenger out of the car, you should remove all protective equipment and wash your hands or use high alcohol content hand sanitizer before getting back into your car.
Speak to your company administration about providing personal protective equipment if they have not provided it.
For more information, visit www.osha.gov/coronavirus or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).