Working during COVID-19

COVID-19 employment accommodation for high-risk employees

Updated May 25, 2021.

As part of the institutional response to COVID-19, the University is committed to supporting employees who are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

Effective April 8, 2021, Governor Inslee’s Proclamation 20-46 High-Risk Employees – Workers’ Rights covers employees defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as being more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19. According to the CDC, the risk for severe illness with COVID-19 increases with age, with older adults at highest risk. Additionally, the risk for severe illness is increased for adults of any age with certain medical conditions.

Medical conditions identified by the CDC  

The CDC has identified that people of any age with the following conditions are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic lung diseases, including COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), asthma (moderate-to-severe), interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis, and pulmonary hypertension
  • Dementia or other neurological conditions
  • Diabetes (type 1 or type 2)
  • Down syndrome
  • Heart conditions (such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathies or hypertension)
  • HIV infection
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system)
  • Liver disease
  • Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher)
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease or thalassemia
  • Smoking, current or former
  • Solid organ or blood stem cell transplant
  • Stroke or cerebrovascular disease, which affects blood flow to the brain
  • Substance use disorders
Medical verification

Effective April 23, 2021 and consistent with Proclamation 20-46.3, for any new high-risk accommodation request or change to an existing high-risk accommodation, the University may request verification from a medical provider in order to determine whether an employee is high-risk and whether the employee may be able to return to the workplace with additional accommodations in place, taking into consideration the employee’s medical condition and the particular circumstances of their job or workplace.

Accommodations provided

When requested by an employee considered at high-risk from exposure to COVID-19, the UW will:

  • Provide options for alternative work assignments such as telework, alternative work locations, reassignment, or social distancing measures.
  • Where alternative work assignments are not possible, permit a high-risk employee to use any of their accrued paid time off or elect to claim unemployment insurance.
  • Maintain all employer-related health insurance benefits for employees already eligible for benefits until the employee is deemed eligible to return to work, even if the employee has exhausted all their own paid time off during the period of leave.

The UW will not terminate, suspend, discipline, take an adverse employment action against, or otherwise discriminate against an employee exercising their rights under this Proclamation or other applicable state and federal laws, nor take any action that would result in loss of the high-risk employee’s current position by permanent replacement. Additionally, the UW will not apply or enforce any employment contract provisions that contradict or otherwise interfere with the intent of the Proclamation. For example, employees can use their time off in any sequence at the discretion of the employee, even if not consistent with collective bargaining agreements, civil service rules, or University policy.

When no work reasonably exists for a high-risk employee, UW may permanently or temporarily layoff the employee. Layoff will not adversely affect the employee’s eligibility for unemployment benefits.

Any changes to a high-risk employee’s accommodations under Proclamation 20-46 will be communicated to the employee with 14 calendar days’ advance written notice itemizing the changes.

As of July 29, 2020 Proclamation 20-46 will remain in effect through the duration of the COVID-19 emergency or until otherwise rescinded or amended and applies to all employees, including healthcare workers and emergency responders.

Process for accommodation requests

Employees with job duties that may require them to work on-site in close contact with others are encouraged to talk to their department about options for physical distancing or performing alternate work assignments.

Requests for an accommodation
Alternate work assignment

If an employee who is at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 requests an accommodation due to the potential threat of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace and the accommodation would be easy to implement or one that you would otherwise provide to any other employee, departments should:

  • Implement the accommodation as soon as possible.
  • Memorialize the accommodation in writing.
  • Communicate the alternate work assignment or other measures to the employee, including any schedule or location changes, anticipated end date, and any other requirements.

Options for physical distancing (including staggering shifts), telework, alternative work locations, reassignment, or performing alternate work assignments should be considered.

If an employee requests an accommodation that is not easy to implement or is not something you would normally provide any other employee, refer the employee to the formal accommodation request process.

While the reasonable accommodation analysis is being conducted, the requested accommodation should be temporarily put in place to protect the employee. Communicate to the employee in writing that the accommodation is being temporarily implemented while the accommodation analysis is being conducted.

If temporary accommodations are not possible during the analysis phase, leave of absence options for the employee should be explored. It is important to document the reason why you are not able to temporarily accommodate (focusing on the impact to business processes). If you have difficulties documenting the impact to business processes, contact the DSO for consultation at DSO@uw.edu or 206-543-6450.

Leave of absence

If the employee’s request is for a leave of absence, refer the employee to their area’s leave specialist:

Employees who choose a leave of absence must give at least five days’ advance notice of any decision to report to work or return to work.

Employees whose leave of absence is not covered by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act or Paid Family and Medical Leave may maintain their PEBB benefits by interspersing 8 hours of their own accrued time off in any otherwise unpaid calendar month of their absence. Employees who have exhausted their own paid time off and have not met minimum healthcare benefits eligibility requirements should work with their department’s HR Partner to approve No Loss of Pay.

Changes to policy

From July 29, 2020 through April 9, 2021, Governor Inslee’s Proclamation 20-46.2 referred to CDC guidance which differentiated at that time between medical conditions and associated risk for severe illness due to COVID-19. The UW was prohibited from requiring medical verification for employees 65 years of age or older or who fell within the “at increased category” and was allowed to request medical verification from employees falling within the “might be at increased risk category” or who were requesting leave where state or federal law or a collective bargaining agreement separately required verification for the use of leave.