Washington Food Producers Must Provide Supplemental Paid Leave

Author: Michael Cardman, XpertHR Legal Editor

August 19, 2020

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, certain food-production employers in Washington state must now provide their workers with emergency supplemental paid sick leave under a new proclamation from Gov. Jay Inslee that took effect August 18.

"We must support every family affected by the virus, especially those who lack the necessary means to quarantine or isolate and prevent further spread," Inslee said.

The proclamation covers all:

  • Agricultural operations (with certain exceptions);
  • Orchards, fields and dairies;
  • Fruit- and vegetable-packing warehouses; and
  • Meat and seafood processors and packers.

Most workers are covered, except those who are provided leave under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

Workers are entitled to paid leave when they are:

  • Subject to a quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
  • Advised by a health care official or provider to self-quarantine or self-isolate due to concerns relating to, or a positive diagnosis of, COVID-19;
  • Prohibited from working due to health concerns relating to the potential transmission of COVID-19; or
  • Experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis.

Employers must provide covered workers with paid leave at the time of and for the duration of these qualifying events, as follows:

  • Workers scheduled to work full-time or scheduled to work at least 40 hours in the prior two weeks are entitled to up to 80 hours of paid leave (except employers must substitute this paid leave with any other paid sick leave provided if that leave is immediately available under the same terms); and
  • Workers scheduled to work less than full-time and less than 40 hours in the preceding two weeks are entitled to paid leave equal to the total number of hours they are normally scheduled during that two-week period or, if they work a variable number of hours, 14 times the average number of hours they worked each day in the period before the date they took paid leave.

Each hour of sick leave must be paid out at a rate of $10.75 per hour, up to a maximum of $860 for 80 hours.

Employers that willfully violate the governor's proclamation are guilty of a gross misdemeanor, which may be punished by imprisonment for up to 364 days and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

A $3 million fund has been established to offset the leave expenditures, but it is not yet clear how employers will be reimbursed. The Washington Department of Commerce will issue further details about the reimbursement program soon, according to Inslee.