Press release

Symptomatic health care workers must not be forced to work

Washington State Nurses Association calls for greater protections for COVID-positive workers to make health care safer for all

Seattle—Following release of internal memos on COVID-positive workers from Multicare Health System and similar reports from health care systems across the state, Washington State Nurses Association released the following statement from Executive Director David Keepnews:

“When the CDC and Washington State Department of Health (DOH) released new guidelines allowing Americans to end isolation if symptoms were ‘resolving,’ we warned that employers would use the new regulations to force sick people to return to work. Tragically, that’s exactly what we’re seeing at Multicare and other facilities around the state.

“The state guidelines call for ‘allowing’ symptomatic health care workers who are ‘willing’ to return to work if symptoms are resolving. It’s clear that employers are interpreting ‘willing’ to mean ‘if we force them to return to work, they will,’ with little regard for workers' symptoms.

“We call on employers to make it clear that no worker will be disciplined for refusing to return while symptomatic with COVID. Further, we are urging DOH to update the state guidance to ensure workers can remain in isolation without consequence if they do not feel it is safe to return to work.

“We are facing an enormous crisis. Nurses and health care workers are stretched to the breaking point, facilities everywhere are struggling with staff shortages and the Omicron wave is clogging our hospitals. We need all hands on deck, but forcing symptomatic workers to return to work is short-sighted and dangerous for sick workers, their colleagues and the patients they serve.

“Nurses and health care workers must have the right to refuse to return while symptomatic if they feel that returning to work is unsafe for themselves or others. We call on employers to clarify their policies, and we call on the state to ensure workers cannot be forced to return while sick, or disciplined for refusing to work while symptomatic with COVID.”