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The economic disruption unleashed by COVID-19 has posed great challenges for the region’s workers. Many have been laid off by businesses that haven’t survived the pandemic. Those who still have jobs may worry about whether their employers are taking the necessary steps to keep them safe. Still others may be experiencing on-the-job harassment due to their ethnicity and mistaken beliefs that a single country is to blame for the pandemic. COVID-19 vaccines are the best tool for workers to protect themselves and others, but it can be challenging to arrange time off work to be vaccinated or stay home in case of possible vaccine side effects.

There are resources to help workers during these difficult times and laws to protect your rights in the workplace.

All workers have rights, whether or not they have COVID-19. If you have symptoms, the best way to protect the people you care for is to get tested and stay home from work. Even if you wear a mask, you can spread the virus to your patients, coworkers, friends, and family.

If you test positive, notify your workplace and stay home even if you don’t have symptoms. You can still spread the virus.

Here are some answers to questions workers might have as they consider work and safety during the pandemic:

Accessing COVID-19 testing or COVID-19 vaccination

Yes. Seattle and King County have several free testing sites, open to anyone, regardless of immigration or insurance status. If you do have health insurance, you should bring your insurance card. But you will not be turned away if you don’t have one.

Yes, vaccination for COVID-19 is free to everyone regardless of insurance or immigration status. Visit our vaccination page to learn more and find available appointments.

All COVID-19 vaccines must go through a rigorous and multi-step testing and evaluation process before they can be used in the United States. Visit our frequently asked questions about COVID vaccine page to learn more.

Getting leave for COVID-19 illness or COVID-19 vaccination

If you or a family member get COVID-19, you may be eligible for paid sick leave. Washington’s Family Care Act allows workers to use their accrued sick leave, vacation time and personal leave if they need to isolate or care for a family member who has COVID-19. For more information, call the Washington Department of Labor & Industries at 1-800-547-8367.

The Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides additional leave benefits to eligible workers through Dec. 31, 2020. For more information about whether you qualify for these benefits, see the Department of Labor's guidance or visit the Washington Paid Family & Medical Leave website.

King County has isolation and quarantine centers for people who can’t isolate or quarantine at home. For more information, watch this video:

You may be eligible to use paid sick leave to get vaccinated or recover from vaccine side effects. Washington's Family Care Act allows workers to use their accrued sick leave, vacation time and personal leave for COVID vaccination and recovery if you are experiencing side effects. For more information, visit https://paidleave.wa.gov/, call the Washington Paid Family and Medical Leave program at 1-833-717-2273, or call the Washington Department of Labor & Industries at 1-800-547-8367.

You may be eligible for Washington's Paid Family and Medical Leave. Call 1-833-717-2273 for assistance accessing this benefit. If you are eligible for paid medical leave under this program but your employer denies you leave, you can file a complaint against your employer and the Employment Security Department will conduct an investigation.

There are other resources for people facing hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please visit our Eviction Prevention and Rent Assistance program page, our Emergency Food Access resources page and our Energy Assistance Programs page for more information.

Yes, you are eligible for paid sick time. Keep in mind that most COVID-19 vaccine side effects are mild and last 1-2 days, whereas recovery from COVID-19 illness can take many days or weeks. In some cases vaccinated people can get COVID-19, however, those who are vaccinated are far less likely to become seriously ill or need hospital care. A vaccine is your best protection against having to miss days of work due to COVID-19.

COVID-19 and employment

Masks are still required for all workers:

  • When their employer chooses to require mask use
  • Healthcare and medical facilities, including hospitals, outpatient, dental facilities, and pharmacies
  • Long-term care settings
  • Public transit, taxis, rideshare vehicles, and airports (federal requirement)
  • Correctional facilities
  • Homeless services sites
  • When following quarantine or isolation period guidelines

You may ask your employer to require other employees to mask. However, there is no legal requirement that employers must require other employees to mask in order to accommodate another employee.

If you have a medical condition that substantially limits one or more major life activities, you are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is federal law. This means you may request an accommodation from your employer making it possible for you to perform your job duties. Your employer may choose to provide the specific accommodation that you request, or they may offer a different accommodation that allows you to do your job.

There is no official method or form to request an accommodation under the ADA as long as you let your employer know that you’re asking for something because of a medical condition. For more information, see how to request and negotiate a reasonable accommodation, and this sample accommodation form letter.

These accommodations are available for all workers regardless of their documentation status. More information is available at www.ada.gov.

If you have a diagnosis of long COVID, you may be eligible for paid sick leave under Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program. Many workers are eligible to take up to 12 weeks, and do not have to take this leave all at once. For example, you can take one day off per week in order to manage a chronic condition like long COVID.

You are also protected by federal law, which states that long COVID is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act if it substantially limits one or more major life activities. People whose long COVID qualifies as a disability are entitled to the same protections from discrimination as any person with a disability. This means that you may request an accommodation that makes it possible for you to perform your job duties. An accommodation might include a part-time or modified work schedule, reassignment to a vacant position, or others. You can also request a temporary accommodation if your needs change over time. It is not necessary to have a documented diagnosis of long COVID in order to access this protection, although some workers choose to provide specific medical information to their employer.

There is no official method or form to request an accommodation under the ADA as long as you let your employer know that you’re asking for something because of a medical condition. For more information, see how to request and negotiate a reasonable accommodation, and this sample accommodation form letter.

These accommodations are available for all workers irrespective of their documentation status. More information is available from the U.S. Department of Labor.

To learn more about long COVID, please visit the CDC’s Web site on post-COVID conditions.

Employers must continue to ensure a safe workplace. Basic COVID-19 safety requirements for all workplaces include following isolation or quarantine guidelines, allowing workers to voluntarily wear masks as long as it doesn’t create a safety or security issue, and frequent sanitizing of work areas.

Workplace safety complaints about coronavirus or other issues can be filed by calling L&I directly at 800-423-7233.

Your employer can screen employees for COVID-19 symptoms – for example, taking employees’ temperatures and asking about their symptoms each day.

If there is a suspected outbreak in your workplace, your employer can require you to get tested even if you don’t have symptoms. People can spread the virus to others even if they don’t feel sick. Seattle and King County have several free testing sites, open to anyone, regardless of immigration or insurance status.

Public Health – Seattle & King County strongly discourages employers from requiring workers to get tested after they have completed isolation or quarantine. We have drafted a letter that you can share with your employer explaining the rationale for this policy.

Many people who have recovered from the virus continue to test positive for several weeks after they have recovered, but this does not mean they are still contagious. If you have completed the recommended isolation period, you are no longer contagious. Therefore:

  • If you tested positive and had symptoms, you may return to work:
    • 5 days after your symptoms first appeared and your symptoms have improved, and you have gone 24 hours without fever without using a fever-reducing medication.
    • You should continue to wear a high quality, well-fitting mask around others for 5 additional days.
    • If an individual has access to a test and wants to test, the best approach is to use an antigen test towards the end of the 5-day isolation period. If your test result is positive, you should continue to isolate until day 10. If your test result is negative, you can end isolation, but continue to wear a well-fitting mask around others at home and in public until day 10.
  • If you were exposed to COVID-19 and are NOT up-to-date on vaccinations and boosters:
    • Quarantine for 5 days and test on Day 5 with a rapid antigen test if possible.
    • If you test negative or do not have symptoms, after five days you can return to work and continue to wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask around others for five more days.
  • If you were exposed to COVID-19 and are up-to-date on vaccinations and boosters, you do not need to quarantine but should wear a high quality, well-fitting mask around others for 10 days after the exposure and test on day 5 with a rapid antigen test, if possible.

Both federal and state laws include protections for employees and prohibit retaliation from employers

Yes, your employer can require vaccination for COVID-19 as a condition of employment, as long as they provide exceptions for workers who are unable to be vaccinated due to medical reasons or sincerely held religious beliefs. Employees who would like to decline vaccination have the right to ask for a work setting that does not put them in contact with the public, such as teleworking. However, it is up to the employer to decide whether such accommodation is possible.

No, employers are required to protect employee privacy, including vaccination status. Employers may ask employees about their vaccination status, but this information should be kept confidential.

Your employer is required to let workers know if they have likely been a close contact of someone with COVID-19 in the workplace. In sharing this information, your employer is not allowed to reveal the name or private medical information of the person who tested positive.

If there is an outbreak in the workplace, your employer must report it to Public Health – Seattle & King County.

The county contact tracing team will investigate to determine how many people might have been exposed. King County contact tracers will advise them immediately to get tested and isolate or quarantine. This is a key method of limiting the spread of the virus.

King County contact tracers will not share your name or ask about your immigration status or social security number. If they reach out to you, please answer their call. They will keep your medical information confidential.

If you have a health condition that makes it unsafe for you to wear a mask, your employer should seek alternative work arrangements that make it safe for you to do your job without wearing one.

If you believe your civil rights have been violated during the pandemic because you have a disability, contact the civil rights enforcement authority in the jurisdiction where the alleged discrimination occurred:

No. It is very important to answer the call from King County contact tracers investigating possible outbreaks in your workplace. They will maintain your confidentiality and will not inquire about your immigration status. Contact tracers will warn anyone you might have exposed that they need to get tested and isolate or quarantine. They will also connect anyone who has been exposed with help and support. They will not reveal your name to your coworkers. Their work is an important way to limit the spread of COVID-19.

King County contact tracers will provide you with helpful information about how to get support while you are distancing yourself from others.

Washington State has a relief fund for immigrants experiencing hard times during the pandemic. Anyone can apply, regardless of immigration status.

The COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund will provide $40 million to assist Washington residents who are unable to access federal stimulus programs due to their immigration status.

While the fund is operational, eligible recipients will receive $1,000, with a limit of $3,000 per household.

Discrimination of any kind on the basis of race or national origin is illegal. An employer, for example, cannot single out members of a particular race or ethnic group and require them to be tested.

If your boss or your coworkers discriminate against you because of your race or ethnicity, contact the civil rights enforcement authority in the jurisdiction where the alleged discrimination occurred:

Job seekers can sign-up here for customized one-on-one assistance by a WorkSource Employment Specialist, often available in languages other than English.

King County also has a program for veterans looking for work, as well as several for young adults:


Link/share our site at kingcounty.gov/covid/workers