Symptomatic health care workers must not be forced to work

220114 safe staffing covid copy

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.”