As COVID-19 Pandemic Continues, Washington’s Department of Labor & Industries Continues to Adapt
As the COVID-19 pandemic endures and uncertainty surrounds vaccine roll outs, the virus continues to impact our everyday lives and how we conduct our businesses. Washington workers’ compensation is no exception, and the Department of Labor & Industries has issued guidelines, frequently asked questions, emergency rules, and modified standard operating procedures to adjust and adapt to the new realities COVID-19 has created. Below are summaries of summaries of several announced Department adaptations created or extended in recent months.
Employer Assistance Program
The Department recently extended the Employer Assistance Program (EAP) to help businesses financially impacted by COVID-19. Under the EAP, businesses may qualify for either a payment deferral for up to 90 days or a 90-day payment plan for workers’ compensation premiums. These delayed payments are both penalty and interest free, but if a qualifying business needs more than 90 days, penalties and interest may apply. In some cases, if a qualifying business falls into deeper financial distress as the pandemic continues, the Department may renegotiate a payment plan.
The Department requires a new request for the EAP every quarter even if a qualifying business enrolled in a prior quarter. This request must be in writing or via email. To take advantage of this program, qualifying businesses are required to file their quarterly reports as soon as possible and pay what they can at the time of filing. Qualifying business are also instructed to contact the Collections Education & Outreach group at or call 1-800-301-1826 and to include their L&I account ID in their request.
Claims Adjudicator Certification Deadlines Extended
In another acknowledgement of the ongoing impact COVID-19 has had, the Department also extended the expiration date for all self-insurance claims administrator certifications set to expire between March 20, 2020 and June 30, 2021. These certifications are now set to expire on July 1, 2021.
Notably, the Department also extended the effective date of WAC 296-15-350(2)(b) from July 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021. This provision imposed a new requirement that “every person making claim decisions outside the state of Washington must be a certified claims administrator.” The Department explained this extension is intended to provide time for certified administrators to take the test without losing certification and possibly putting their employment at risk. This extension also allows business to avoid penalties for not using certified claim administrators. Further, the Department is also exploring options for offering the self-insurance certification tests electronically. It hopes to have this option available in the next few weeks.
Emergency Rule WAC 296-800-14035 2019
On January 12, 2021, the Department updated the emergency rule addressing COVID-19 prohibited business activities and compliance with conditions for operations that were first implemented on May 26, 2020. Under this emergency rule, if a business activity is prohibited by an emergency proclamation (such as Governor Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home – Stay Healthy,” “Safe Start – Stay Healthy,” and “Stay Safe – Stay Healthy” proclamations) employers must not allow employees to perform the restricted work activity. This emergency rule also requires employers to comply with all emergency proclamation conditions required for business operations (e.g., masks, distance requirements, etc.). These business operation conditions include Safe Start phased reopening requirements that apply to all businesses and any industry-specific requirements.
Emergency Rule WAC 296-307-16102
The Department also adopted additional requirements to protect occupants in temporary worker housing from COVID-19. The requirements are in effected from January 8 – March 8, 2021. This emergency rule contains several requirements and provisions ranging from providing occupants cloth face coverings to educating occupants about COVID-19 in languages they understand to frequent cleaning and disinfecting surfaces to identifying and isolating occupants with suspected and confirmed positive cases. The entirety of the emergency rules provisions can be found here.
As the Department makes additional changes, extensions, aid programs, and emergency rules, SBH Legal is staying updated and informed in order to best serve our clients and employers. If you have any questions regarding these issues, please do not hesitate to contact me at (503) 412-3117 or .
Posted by Christine Olson