Working during COVID-19

COVID-19 employment accommodation for high-risk employees

Updated August 18, 2020.

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 July 29, 2020, Governor Inslee’s Proclamation 20-46 High-Risk Employees – Workers’ Rights, covers employees within the following categories:

  • Employees who are 65 years of age or older;
  • Employees whose underlying medical conditions place them “at increased risk”; and
  • Employees whose underlying medical conditions mean they “might be at increased risk,” but only if, based on the employee’s medical circumstances and workplace conditions, the employee is, in fact, at increased risk for suffering severe illness from COVID-19.
Conditions within the CDC “At Increased Risk” category

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
  • Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher)
  • Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus
Conditions within the CDC “Might Be At Increased Risk” category

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified that people of any age with the following conditions might be at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19:

  • Asthma (moderate-to-severe)
  • Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines
  • Neurologic conditions, such as dementia
  • Liver disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues)
  • Smoking
  • Thalassemia (a type of blood disorder)
  • Type 1 diabetes mellitus
Medical verification

Consistent with Proclamation 20-46.2, the University will not require verification from a medical provider when the employee seeking an accommodation is either 65 years of age or older or falls within the “at increased risk” category.

The University may require verification from a medical provider when the employee either falls within the “might be at an increased risk” category, or seeks to use any leave where a state or federal law or collective bargaining agreement separately requires verification for the use of leave.

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, or take any other adverse employment action against an employee exercising their rights under this Proclamation, 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 institutional 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.

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.