Human Resources

Public health emergency accommodation

Last updated: May 11, 2023.

Washington state law protects high-risk employees from being discharged, permanently replaced, or discriminated against in the workplace for seeking accommodation from exposure to an infectious or contagious disease during a public health emergency.

Public health emergency

A public health emergency is defined as a declaration or order concerning any infectious or contagious disease, including a pandemic, issued as follows:

  • The president of the United States has declared a national or regional emergency that covers every county in the state; or
  • The governor of Washington has declared a state of emergency in every county in the state.
High-risk employee

An employee is considered high-risk if:

  • they are at a high-risk of severe illness from the disease that is the subject of the public health emergency as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); and
  • a medical provider has recommended the employee’s removal from the workforce because of their high-risk of severe illness.
Accommodations provided

When requested by an employee considered at high-risk of severe illness from the disease that is the subject of a public health emergency, the University will:

  • Provide alternative work assignments such as telework, alternative work locations, reassignment, or physical distancing measures as accommodations.
  • Where accommodation is not possible, permit a high-risk employee to use any of their accrued paid time off or elect to claim unemployment insurance.

The UW will not terminate, suspend, discipline, take an adverse employment action against, or otherwise discriminate against an employee based on exercise of their right to request a high-risk accommodation under applicable state and federal law, nor take any action that would result in the loss of the high-risk employee’s current position by permanent replacement due to their being high-risk.
However, when no work reasonably exists for an employee at high-risk, UW may permanently or temporarily layoff the employee. Layoff will not adversely affect the employee’s eligibility for unemployment benefits.

Process for high-risk accommodation requests

Employees seeking an accommodation should submit a Accommodation Request for Disability or Serious Medical Condition (PDF) and submit a written recommendation (no specific form required) from their health care provider stating the employee is at high-risk of severe illness due to the disease that is the subject of the public health emergency and requires accommodation that protects them from the risk of exposure. Disclosure of an underlying medical condition or diagnosis is not required. The document may be faxed to the Disability Services Office at 206-685-7264. The employee may take available time off, including unpaid time or may claim unemployment benefits, if eligible, while the request for accommodation is reviewed for approval.

Policy update

Until its expiration on October 31, 2022 and consistent with RCW 49.17.062, Governor Inslee’s Proclamation 20-05 (declaring a state of emergency in all counties in the state of Washington due to coronavirus) required accommodations for employees at high-risk for severe illness due to COVID-19. From November 1, 2022 until its expiration on May 11, 2023, the presidential proclamation declaring a National Emergency Concerning the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic required accommodations related to COVID-19.