Frequently asked questions for business

Safety FAQs

There are many different types of COVID-19 requirement and guidance documents. How do I know what to follow?

A good starting point for questions is the governor’s COVID-19 reopening guidance page. The governor’s office, Department of Labor & Industries, and state Department of Health are the primary offices issuing guidance.

What does it take to get a business-specific safety plan approved?

Your plan is not required to be approved, but the Department of Labor & Industries is available to review safety requirements and provide professional guidance. Request an L&I consultation.

Does any other proclamation impact my business operation?

Yes. For example, Proclamation 20-24.1 has specific requirements for healthcare providers, and Proclamation 20-46.1 addresses high risk workers. View a list of all COVID-19 related proclamations from Governor Inslee.

Your Employees

I have some employees whom I believe fit one or more of the high risk categories. Should I reach out to them directly to ask if they would like accommodation?

Because of the risk of potential “regarded as disability” discrimination and age discrimination claims, it is recommended to communicate to all employees about the proclamation rather than to reach out directly to specific employees who have not asked for accommodation. 

What if I need to temporarily lay off employees due to a slowdown of business which is not directly linked to COVID-19?

You may request to place an employee on standby and your employee can collect unemployment benefits without having to look for other work. While on standby, workers must accept any work you offer that they can do without breaking isolation or quarantine. Relief of benefit charges cannot be granted in this situation.

I have offered an alternative work location to a high-risk employee where no other employees are present, but they are still saying they do not feel safe coming in to work. Can I deny them telework and/or leave?

State law explicitly states that during a public health emergency, high-risk workers are allowed to seek reasonable accommodation without fear of discharge or discrimination. If there is no reasonable accommodation available, employers must provide the employee all leave options – including leave without pay.

How do I designate my employee to be on standby to make sure they receive the maximum benefit?

Our technology is catching up to our emergency rulemaking. Employers won’t be able to designate the maximum amount of standby time allowed by emergency rules in eServices until we apply an update to the system. We are working on that, and when complete, an employee’s existing application for standby will be automatically extended. No action is needed by employers at this time.

I have offered telework to a high-risk employee, but they are saying they would rather take leave. Must I approve the leave in these circumstances?

In this case, you can follow your agency or institution’s leave policies. If you are considering denying leave to a high-risk individual, you may want to consult your HR office or legal counsel first.

What will happen to my employees if I go out of business due to impacts from COVID-19?

If you lay off employees due to a permanent closure, they can apply for unemployment benefits. Eligibility will be determined based upon criteria in place prior to COVID-19, and on a case-by-case basis. Layoff assistance may be available for businesses facing major layoffs. 

Where can I find additional resources for businesses?

What type of leave can employees use for this purpose?

Employees can use any accrued leave, including vacation, sick, compensatory time, exchange time, personal holiday, or can also utilize federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL). Aside from accrued leave, leave with pay is not authorized for this purpose.

In what order can employees use leave?

Employees can use their leave in any sequence at the discretion of the employee.

Can I require an employee to exhaust accrued leave prior to filing for unemployment if they are unable to work due to their status as a high-risk employee?

No, employees can file for unemployment benefits even if they have not exhausted available leave.

Are healthcare employees, first responders or other essential personnel excluded from high-risk employee protections?

No, there are no exclusions. If an employee is at high-risk, as defined by the CDC, the employer is required to accommodate them.

If I am not laying off my employee, how can they seek unemployment benefits? What documentation should I be providing them?

ESD has passed an emergency rule allowing an employee to file for benefits due to lack of work when they are unable to work due to being a member of a high-risk group as defined by the CDC. If an employee is seeking to use unemployment benefits rather than using leave due to lack of an alternative work arrangement, the employer should provide documentation to ESD that there is a lack of work.

Can I require documentation from the employee to verify that they are high-risk? If so, what can I require?

If an employee is requesting accommodation due to being in a high-risk group, and they provide sufficient facts to support the request, the employer must provide the accommodation.  

Can I back-fill for my high-risk employees who are on leave or not able to perform their jobs on site?

Yes, you can hire temporary/non-permanent employees, as long as they do not permanently replace the high-risk employee.

Business Assistance

Are there any changes to the dates that property taxes are due?

Check with your county treasurer's office about potential property tax deadline changes for your county. You can find COVID-19 information and links to county governments on the Washington Association of County Officials website.

What assistance is available for businesses during this crisis?

I am closing my business because of COVID-19. Am I required to cash out employees’ vacation time when my business closes?

Severance, personal holidays and vacation time are voluntary benefits. Employers can choose to pay out these benefits on a final paycheck. If your employees believe they are owed any of these agreed-upon benefits, they can contact an attorney or file in small claims court.

Employers must follow separate requirements for paid sick leave balances.

We encourage you to learn about resources available to help keep your business open.

I own a membership-based business (such as a gym) that has shut down. Do I refund membership dues because of the mandatory shutdown?

That will depend on your membership contract, so we can’t provide advice on that specific question. Get more information on resources for small businesses.

Is it acceptable to run payroll on a quarterly basis?

Employers must pay employees at least once per month on a regular, scheduled payday. You can learn more on the Department of Labor & Industries website.

I'm self-employed and my business has closed. What resources are available to me?

We encourage you to contact the Employment Security Department to speak with a specialist about your specific situation: 855-829-9243.

Visit the Employer Unemployment Insurance Q&A page for additional information.

What programs are offered to assist businesses to keep workers during COVID-19?

Shared Work: This program allows employers to reduce the hours of permanent and hourly-paid employees by as much as 50 percent. Employees can collect partial unemployment benefits to replace a portion of their lost wages. While on the SharedWork program, employees are not required to make an active search for work. You must apply to participate in the program. Find the application and instructions

Partial employment (for reduction in hours): If you are temporarily reducing hours of work for your full-time employees, they may be able to receive unemployment benefits without needing to look for work. 

Standby: In certain circumstances, your employees may be eligible for standby. Standby means they do not have to look for other work but need to be available for any work you offer that they can do if quarantined or isolated. Generally, standby is only allowed for up to eight weeks during a claim year. We may grant an extension of standby for more than eight weeks if you make your request in writing and can show extraordinary circumstances. Under the new emergency rules, temporary shutdowns related to COVID-19 infection at the place of business that cause you to close or severely reduce operations are considered extraordinary circumstances.

If I need to temporarily shut down my business due to a possible COVID-19 contamination or quarantine at the worksite, can I receive a relief of benefit charges?

If you are a taxable employer, you may request a relief of benefit charges due to a business closure which is directly related to possible contamination at the business site. This will be determined on a case-by-case basis. 

More questions?