Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

On May 14, 2020, the Washington State Department of Health, in conjunction with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, created new emergency COVID-19-related safety rules that farms must implement if they provide temporary farmworker housing. The rules went into effect on May 18, 2020.

The new rules impose five general requirements on Washington farms that provide temporary farmworker housing. Generally speaking, these farms must:

  1. Provide farmworker housing occupants with cloth face coverings;
  2. Frequently clean and disinfect housing surfaces;
  3. “Develop and implement a physical distancing plan . . . at housing sites, which includes at all cooking, eating, bathing, washing, recreational, and sleeping facilities”;
  4. Educate housing occupants on COVID-19 and post information regarding the facilities’ health and safety policies in a language understood by the occupants; and
  5. Implement a plan to identify and isolate confirmed and suspected COVID-19 cases for housing occupants, and “submit revised temporary worker housing management plans to the state Department of Health that demonstrate how they will comply with the emergency rules” no later than May 28, 2020.

Businesses subject to the new emergency rules are permitted to request a temporary variance from compliance with these rules. To receive variance approval, a business must adopt measures that provide housing occupants with equivalent protections as those outlined in the rules.

It is presently unclear whether the state plans to inspect farmworker housing to ensure compliance with these new emergency rules. However, failure to submit a revised plan or to comply with the emergency rules could result in administrative action, including license suspension or fines. Thus, farms will want to consider immediately documenting all steps taken to comply with the safety rules to avoid penalties.