May 4, 2020

Employers encouraged to help develop detailed safety protocols for their industry

By: Andrew Lenderman   Comments: 0
Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine, Department of Labor & Industries Director Joel Sacks and Department of Commerce Deputy Director Chris Green (not pictured) join AWB Vice President of Communications Jason Hagey for a May 1 webinar with local chambers of commerce and other groups. 

Getting Washington back to work will require employers to follow broad safety guidelines, such as social distancing and procedures to address sick workers, state officials say. And more detailed guidelines will need to be developed for specific industries, since what works in manufacturing may not work for an auto dealer or a restaurant. Employers are encouraged to get involved and help make the rules for Washington's new coronavirus normal by working with state leaders.

These are some of the highlights from Friday's Economic Recovery and Resiliency webinar. State officials provided updates and took questions from Washington employers and business leaders, many of which focused on how to reopen the economy.

Joel Sacks, the director of the state Department of Labor & Industries, said employers will need to provide or ensure these five things:

1. Social distancing (at least 6 feet apart or other controls)

2. Frequent and adequate hand washing

3. Frequently clean/sanitize commonly touched surfaces

4. Procedures to address sick employees

5. Employee education (in language of preference) about preventing COVID-19 hazard

Click here to access these guidelines online, and other information that may prove useful to employers getting ready to open for business. He encouraged employers to work with state officials and share best practices and things that work.

"While we've identified and tried to put together some best practices and suggestions, I think the more you as a business community in partnership with the Department of Commerce…begin to really think about what are some of those best practices for your individual industries, we can together come up with some strategies to fight the spread of the disease," Sacks said.

Sacks cited the recent resumption of some construction activity as an example. In that case, the industry had to follow the five basic requirements, and a stakeholder group came up with 30 additional recommendations to allow some of the work to begin with safety in mind.

Deputy Director Chris Green from the state Department of Commerce said businesses can get involved in this discussion through AWB, and through the state's online business inquiry portal.

Final decisions to open certain industries will be determined by health data and the governor, Green noted.

"Any time there's an industry that is sort of designated, or allowed to come back, those are going to be approved at the highest level," Green said.

On the unemployment insurance front, the state continues to set record after record. Washington has paid out roughly $1.5 billion in benefits since the COVID-19 crisis began and more than 787,000 people have filed unemployment claims for the week ending April 25, Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi LeVine said. That's more people than the population of Seattle.

"To put that in context again, that's one in five workers utilizing the unemployment system in Washington state," LeVine said.

The Employment Security Department is also working to make the system more efficient by communicating with people who have been approved for benefits, but need to take further action such as filing a weekly benefit, for example. The department is also hiring additional staff to help with the enormous workload, among other measures.

LeVine also addressed a major component of how America's unemployment insurance system is designed. In general, these systems are designed to help laid off workers until they find their next job.

"Fundamentally you must have a good cause reason for refusing an offer of work to remain eligible for unemployment benefits," LeVine said. "…If you do not have a good reason to refuse an offer of work, you are likely no longer eligible for unemployment."

There are exceptions, however. Read more about this issue here.

And LeVine answered another frequently asked question related to employer benefit charges.

First, businesses experience ratings won't be updated until January 2021, she noted. Also, the state Legislature allocated $25 million for relief of benefit charges earlier this year.

"That will help a little," she said.

Most of the benefits paid out so far have been funded by the federal government, she noted. This includes the expanded eligibility for new beneficiaries, the extra $600 weekly payments, the additional 13 weeks of benefits, and the waiver of the so-called waiting week.

"All of that is paid by the federal government and will not go against a business's experience rate assessment," LeVine said. Read more about benefit charges and other employer issues here.

For more information, please visit AWB's Employer Resource page here.