Health care worker presumptive eligibility becomes law

210511 wsna inslee web

WSNA members (from left) Julia Barcott, Martha Galvez and Shelly Pollock Mead joined Governor Jay Inslee Tuesday for the signing of several worker protections bills passed by the Washington State Legislature.

On Tuesday, Governor Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5190 into law — which goes into effect immedi­ately and provides presump­tive eligi­bility for workers’ compen­sa­tion and unemploy­ment insurance. 

In April, the Washington State Legis­la­ture passed the bill, which provides health care workers with presump­tive benefits during a public health emergency. The bill was sponsored by Senator Jeff Holy (R‑Spokane) after he met with WSNA nurses who were told by their employers they didn’t contract COVID-19 on the job; as a result, these nurses were denied benefits like workers’ compen­sa­tion and unemploy­ment insur­ance. Senator Holy worked with WSNA on legis­la­tion to address this problem. Details of the bill include:

  • When a nurse or health care worker contracts the illness that is the subject of a state or federal health emergency, it is presumed they got it at work. This presump­tion applies to workers’ compen­sa­tion (for time off work due to illness) and unemploy­ment insur­ance (for time off work due to quarantine).
  • The Washington State Depart­ment of Labor & Indus­tries (L&I) decides if a worker quali­fies for workers’ compen­sa­tion — not employers or third-party administrators.
  • An employer must have clear and convincing” evidence (the strongest evidence standard in state law) to rebut this presumption.

Presump­tive eligi­bility has already been avail­able to firefighters for certain work-related diseases, as well as workers at the Hanford nuclear site near the Tri-Cities. This new presump­tion for nurses and health care workers recog­nizes the unique hazards we face on the front lines of disease outbreaks while we treat patients who have the illness that is the subject of a state or federal health emergency.

Did you contract COVID-19 at work? File for workers’ compensation retroactively #

If you were out sick with a COVID-19 infec­tion that you believe was contracted at work, we encourage you to file a workers’ compen­sa­tion claim with L&I. You have two years from the date of the work-related illness to file a claim.

Once you apply and the claim is approved, you can receive time-loss back pay, which is especially valuable to nurses who exhausted their paid time off prior to acquiring COVID-19 and were told they had to take unpaid leave.

Even if you were only out of work for a few days, applying for workers’ compen­sa­tion now will give you future coverage, including medical, for any long-hauler or long-term side effects of COVID-19. Once it is deemed a work-related illness and your workers’ compen­sa­tion claim is approved, L&I covers the medical care for life.