Washington’s Safe Start Proclamation for Phased Reopening Includes a Mandate That Employees Wear Cloth Face Coverings

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At midnight on May 31, Governor Inslee’s “Stay Home – Stay Healthy” order expired, replaced by his “Safe Start – Stay Healthy” order of the same day (“Safe Start Proclamation”). Under the Safe Start Proclamation, any county may apply to transition to Phase II of the Safe Start Washington plan if it can demonstrate that it meets certain metrics regarding COVID-19 activity, healthcare system readiness, testing, contact tracing, and protection of high-risk populations. See here for our more detailed discussion of Phase II. Counties that do not meet the requirements for moving to Phase II may nevertheless apply for a modified Phase I allowing for some Phase II activities to take place. There are currently 27 counties that have been approved to move to Phase II, while 12 counties remain in Phase I. King County, one of the counties still in Phase I, intends to apply for a modified Phase I that would allow some limited Phase II activities such as outdoor restaurant dining at 50% capacity, outdoor gatherings of five or fewer people not within the same household, and in-store retail operations at 15% of building occupancy and with a time limitation.

An additional requirement imposed upon Washington employers by the Safe Start Proclamation is a mandate that almost all workers wear cloth face coverings beginning June 8. Only employees who are “working alone in an office, vehicle, or at a job site . . . or when the job has no in-person interaction”—and employees who are hearing impaired and reliant on facial expressions for communication—are exempted from the mandate. Employers are required to provide their employees with cloth face coverings, though employees may choose to use their own. Additional protection for employees may also be required, depending on the circumstances. See here for WA L&I’s guidelines. The face covering requirement remains in place for all phases of Safe Start Washington.

In addition to the face covering requirement, Washington employers will also continue to be required, at all phases, to:

  • Maintain physical distancing of six feet between individuals for both employees and patrons, to the extent possible;
  • Limit close interactions with patrons;
  • Provide adequate sanitation and personal hygiene for workers, vendors, and patrons;
  • Ensure frequent cleaning and disinfection of their businesses, especially high-touch surfaces;
  • Provide necessary personal protective equipment and supplies to employees;
  • Identify strategies for addressing ill employees;
  • Educate employees about COVID-19, including signs, symptoms, and risk factors and how to prevent its spread;
  • Implement other practices appropriate for specific types of businesses on a case-by-case basis; and
  • Accommodate employees who are at high risk should they contract COVID-19 (see our prior blog post about the Governor’s proclamation regarding protection of high-risk employees here).

Significantly, any failure by an employer to comply with these requirements, including the requirement regarding cloth face coverings, can constitute a safety violation under WA L&I’s new regulation of WAC 296-800-14035.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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