The current COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges for many people. Between lost income, new health concerns, and changing workplace considerations, there are many situations in which members of our community may require legal assistance. We believe it’s important to know your rights and understand the resources available to them, especially in these tumultuous times.
The Anderson Hunter team has compiled information to help members of our Snohomish County community navigate some common situations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please read and share this information with your friends, family, and coworkers.
Workplace Rights During COVID-19
Workers have the right to a safe workplace in Washington state. If you request it, your employer must use all available options for alternative work assignments to protect you from exposure to COVID-19. These options may include telework, alternative work locations, reassignment, and social distancing measures.
In situations where it is not feasible to provide alternative work, employers must allow employees to choose to use employer-provided accrued leave or unemployment insurance. If you use all of your paid time off, your employer must fully maintain your health insurance benefits until you are eligible to return to work. Your employer is not permitted to permanently replace you for exercising these rights.
Keep in mind that you may be eligible for expanded family or medical leave as per the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This law provides up to 80 hours of paid leave for many workers who provide care to a qualifying family member with the coronavirus. You may also be able to use Washington State’s new Paid Family and Medical Leave to cover time off work if you or someone in your family is sick with the virus or other serious health issues.
If you are navigating a difficult work-related situation and think you could benefit from legal assistance or advice, be sure to reach out to an employment lawyer to learn about your options.
Working During Illness
No one should be working while ill, especially during a pandemic. Washington State’s Paid Family and Medical Leave exists to provide you with support until you recover, regardless of whether you have COVID-19 or another illness.
If your employer is forcing you to work while you are sick, that is considered a safety hazard. You may have good cause to quit and receive unemployment benefits while you search for a new job. If you are in this situation and are struggling to access benefits, reach out to an employment lawyer.
All workers in Washington State are required to wear face coverings while at work, with few exceptions. For low-risk jobs, a reusable cloth mask is enough, while for jobs that are designated medium or high-risk, you may need a different type of face covering such as a respirator or N95 mask. If you have a medical or disability issue that prevents you from wearing a mask, you must give your employer a note from your doctor saying why you should not wear one.
Employers are required to provide employees with a mask free of charge. They must immediately replace an employee’s mask if they ask for one, when recommended by the manufacturer, or if it becomes wet, dirty, or otherwise damaged.
Worker’s Compensation Eligibility
If it is likely that you were exposed to COVID-19 at work, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits such as medical treatment and money to replace part of the wages you lose if you cannot work. Either you or your doctor can submit a claim to the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (LnI).
If your claim is accepted and a health care provider or public health professional says you need to quarantine, you may receive partial wage-replacement benefits even if you don’t test positive for the virus.
Unemployment and Unemployment Fraud
On top of recent changes in federal assistance, extra support is available for unemployed workers in Washington State during COVID-19. The Employment Security Department has added staff and set new rules in place to make it easier to receive the unemployment benefits you have earned, including waiving the normal “waiting week” so you can receive benefits as soon as possible.
You automatically qualify for unemployment benefits if you have been laid off because of slow business or a closure. Even if the layoff is temporary, your employer may be able to obtain “standby” status and allow you to claim benefits for up to 8 weeks.
Both full-time and part-time workers can be eligible for standby status. Freelancers, contractors, and gig workers can also qualify for unemployment if they lose income during the crisis. Keep in mind that you do not have to lose all your income to qualify for unemployment; you may have the option of obtaining partial unemployment if your income or hours are cut.
If you believe someone else may be getting your unemployment benefits, log in or create an account at the Washington State Employment Security Department. You will need to begin the process to file for unemployment as a test for fraud. At the “Verify My Identity” step, you will be able to see if anyone has accessed your account or filed a claim on your behalf. From there, enter your email address to verify your account and lock your account in.
If someone else is getting your unemployment, follow the steps listed at the ESD Unemployment Benefits Fraud page and file an online or non-emergency police report with the agency whose jurisdiction you live in. You should also contact the Credit Bureaus to report that someone has made a fraudulent unemployment claim using your identity. Be sure to give them the case number from your police report. If you wish, you can have a fraud alert put on your identity or freeze your credit at no cost.
You should also start a file folder or journal with information from this incident, including any case numbers. Some government services and accommodations, like getting certain public records sealed, are available only to victims of identity theft.
Coronavirus Testing and Treatment Under the Law
Under the law, everyone is eligible for both the testing and treatment of communicable diseases, including COVID-19. That includes people who do not have legal immigration status. Once a vaccine has been developed, it will also be legally available to everyone regardless of immigration status under current laws.
Most health insurance plans cover the costs of coronavirus testing and treatment, including Washington Apple Health. If you are not eligible for Washington Apple Health, you may still be able to buy a Qualified Health Plan on Washington Healthplanfinder or be eligible for Emergency Medicaid, which provides assistance for people in emergency situations regardless of immigration status. Using Emergency Medicaid will not cause you problems with immigration.
COVID-19 and Evictions
Washington State has proclaimed and extended a temporary eviction moratorium. As long as the moratorium is in place, tenants cannot be evicted for being unable to pay rent. The proclamation also provides additional protections to renters, including prohibiting retaliation against tenants who invoke their rights under the proclamation.
As of the time of this writing, the eviction moratorium is scheduled to end on October 15, 2020. Until that time, landlords may not try to evict tenants or go to court to get a writ against them for being unable to pay the rent. Landlords are also not permitted to raise the rent, increase the deposit, charge late fees for late rent payments that were due beginning February 29, 2020, or report a debt for rent on the tenant’s credit until October 15.
The eviction moratorium applies to anyone who pays rent to live in any type of place. This includes non traditional housing such as rented lots for mobile homes, transitional housing, camping areas, Airbnbs, hotels, motels, renting a room from a roommate, and living at a commercial property as a caregiver or security. A renter qualifies as long as they live in the space as their residence and not as a place to stay for a few nights during travel.
However, there are still a few situations in which a landlord may evict a tenant:
- A landlord may serve tenants with a notice of unlawful detainer if they are causing an immediate and significant threat to health, safety, or property. Please note that having COVID-19 does not count as causing an immediate or significant threat in this context.
- A landlord may give the tenant notice to move if they wish to sell the property. They must provide notice in this situation at least 60 days in advance.
- A landlord may give the tenant notice if they wish to move into the property themselves. Again, they must provide notice in this situation at least 60 days in advance.
Keep in mind that the eviction moratorium does not equate to free rent. All rent payments that are delayed during the moratorium period must be paid eventually. Landlords are required to offer a reasonable repayment plan based on the tenant’s individual circumstances.
There are also some financial options during COVID-19 that landlords may benefit from, especially those who have a mortgage. Landlords who are concerned about a lack of rental income during the rent moratorium may be able to find relief through the Federal Housing Administration’s foreclosure moratorium for certain types of housing. You may also be able to negotiate a temporary extension from your mortgage servicer.
The eviction moratorium may be extended in the future for Washington State or select areas. For example, the city of Seattle has extended its eviction moratorium through the end of December.
If you are a tenant who is concerned that the moratorium is coming to an end and you do not yet have the money to pay your landlord back, please check in with local authorities to see if the moratorium may have been extended. You can also reach out to a legal professional to see if other assistance may be available.
Need Legal Help in Snohomish County?
Anderson Hunter Law Firm has been serving residents of Snohomish County for over 100 years. We stay up to date on both federal and local legal changes and are committed to offering comprehensive, cost-effective service for members of our community. If you believe your rights are being denied or think you could benefit from legal assistance, contact us today.