New Labor Bills Signed into Law

New Labor Bills Signed into Law

This week Governor Inslee signed two new labor bills into law that impact your workers. Both SB 5190 and SB 5115, Health Emergency Labor Standards Act (HELSA), were signed on Tuesday and became effective immediately. 

SB 5190 provides health care workers with presumptive benefits during a public health emergency. This bill only covers “health care worker,” including any individual that works at a health care facility defined under RCW 9A.50.010 (specifically includes nursing homes and likely includes assisted living facilities providing health care services) and is directly involved in the delivery of health care services. The bill offers worker protections in two areas:

  • Unemployment Insurance. For unemployment insurance claims, after July 4, 2021, and during the weeks of a public health emergency (PHE), an unemployed individual, who worked at a health care facility and was directly involved in the delivery of health services, and left from work for the period of quarantine consistent with CDC or state or local health department guidance because of exposure to or contracting the disease that is the subject of the declaration of the PHE, is eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. 
  • Workers’ Compensation. For health care employees, there exists a prima facie presumption that any infectious or contagious diseases which are the subject of a PHE are occupational diseases during a PHE. The presumption applies to health care workers of any health care facility or other organization that provides emergency or medical services, who has or likely has had direct contact with any person who has been exposed to or tested positive for any infectious or contagious diseases which are the subject of the PHE. The health care employee must provide verification to the Department of Labor and Industries or the self-insurer that the employee is in quarantine or has contracted the disease after exposure to the infectious or contagious disease. 

SB 5115 (HELSA) covers frontline employees, including maintenance, janitorial, and food service workers at any facility treating patients diagnosed with COVID. The definition is vague but is believed to apply to a nursing home, assisted living facility, or other facilities that treat COVID.   

HELSA establishes the following requirements for an infectious or contagious disease like COVID-19 during a declared public health emergency: 

  • Frontline workers, as defined in the law, who contract an infectious or contagious disease are entitled to workers’ compensation wage replacement, and medical benefits under a rebuttable presumption that exposure to disease occurred on the job. 
  • Employers with more than 50 employees at a workplace must notify L&I within 24 hours if they have ten or more employees who have tested positive for an infectious or contagious disease. 
  • Employers are prohibited from discharge, replacement, or discrimination of high-risk employees for seeking accommodations or utilizing leave to protect against an infectious or contagious disease. 
  • Employers must notify employees, union representatives, and employers of subcontracted employees of potential exposure to an infectious or contagious disease. 

While we are still waiting on further clarification, it is likely that the outbreak reporting requirements to L&I will apply to everyone. L&I is currently drafting guidance on how these requirements will be implemented and enforced. We will continue to keep you updated as we learn more. We are also working on a webinar or other educational opportunities on how these bills impact your communities. 


Please let me know if you have additional questions. 

Alyssa Odegaard- Vice President, Public Policy 

c: 206.948.2279


May 13, 2021