29 Jul

July 2021 Washington HR Legal Updates

Posted at

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Washington Enacts Employee Long-Term Care Insurance Program 

Update Applicable to:
All employers in Washington. 

What happened?
On April 21, 2021, Governor Jay Inslee signed the WA Cares Fund (or “Fund”) into law. 

What are the details?
The WA Cares Fund, effective January 1, 2022, creates a mandatory, public, state-run long-term care insurance program for workers. Employers will not have an employer-paid portion of the premium but are responsible for collecting and reporting the premiums. Key points to keep in mind for this Fund are: 

  • The law imposes a new employee-paid premium of $0.58 per $100 of earnings.
  • There is no employer-paid portion of the premium.
  • Employers are responsible for collecting, remitting, and reporting these premiums, and employers will face penalties if they do not.
  • The benefits offered under the WA Cares Fund are limited.
  • The WA Cares Fund premiums are uncapped, but there is a $36,500 lifetime cap, indexed for inflation, on the benefits an employee can receive, so highly compensated employees will help subsidize the program.
  • WA Cares benefits are available only if the employee receives care in Washington.
  • Employees can opt out of the WA Cares Fund only if they secure their own private long-term care insurance by November 1, 2021, and they apply for and receive an exemption by December 31, 2022. 

The WA Cares Fund is being funded by employee premiums paid via a mandatory payroll deduction. Employers are responsible for collecting and remitting these employee premiums, including submitting a quarterly report of these premiums, to the Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD). 

The premiums deducted from each individual employee in Washington will be based on the employee’s wages equal to $0.58 for every $100 and will be reassessed every other year, starting January 1, 2024, but has a cap of .58%. All employees must contribute (unless approved for exemption) and the employer will withhold the amount and pay it to the WA Cares Fund. 

Employees may opt out of the Fund by attesting that they have purchased private long-term care insurance before November 1, 2021 and applying for exemption on the Washington State Employment Security Department’s (ESD) website. Exemptions will only be accepted from October 1, 2021 through December 31, 2022, once approved the employee will receive an official exemption approval letter from the ESD that the employer must receive. Once received, the employer must stop deducting premiums beginning the first day of the quarter after the quarter in which the exemption was approved. 

Employers and employees that are party to a collective bargaining agreement in existence on October 19, 2017, are not required to reopen the agreement or to comply with the WA Cares Fund law unless and until the existing agreement is reopened, renegotiated, or expires. 

An article on the new Fund can be read here

The official website for the fund is located here. 

What do employers need to do?
Employers should review the fund and update any applicable policies to ensure they are in compliance and prepared to begin deducting and reporting the premiums.

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Washington Enacts Emergency Heat Standard Rule 

Update Applicable to:
All employers in Washington. 

What happened?
On July 9, 2021, Washington’s Department of Labor & Industries filed emergency rules in addition to their existing Outdoor Heat Exposure rules. 

What are the details?
The rules, effective July 13, 2021, the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) in Washington added emergency rules that are used to provide additional protections to employees who are exposed to extreme heat. 

When the temperature is at or above 89 degrees, the new and existing rules will combine to require employers to: 

  • Provide water that is cool enough to drink safely.
  • Allow and encourage workers to take additional paid preventative cool-down rest to protect from overheating.
  • Be prepared by having a written outdoor heat exposure safety program and providing training to employees.
  • Respond appropriately to any employee with symptoms of heat-related illness. 

When temperatures reach 100 degrees or above, the employers are required to respond by: 

  • Providing shade or another sufficient means for employees to cool down.
  • Ensuring workers have a paid cool-down rest period of at least 10 minutes every two hours.
  • Have and maintain one or more areas with shade at all times, while employees are present, that are either open to the air or provided with ventilation or cooling and not adjoining a radiant heat source, such as machinery or a concrete structure. The shaded area must be large enough to accommodate the number of employees on a meal or rest break. The shaded area must be located as close as practicable to where the employees are working. 

L&I will be working to incorporate the rules as permanent. 

The rule can be read here

Articles on the rule can be read here, here and here. 

What do employers need to do?
Employers should review the emergency rules and make any policy and worksite updates to stay in compliance.

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