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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Operations and Personnel Issues

This page provides information and examples regarding operational and personnel issues faced by local governments in Washington State due to the 2020 novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), including telecommuting and remote meetings, physical presence at work sites, and leave and pay issues.

It is part of MRSC's Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources for Local Governments series.

Latest Updates

To help you keep track of the rapidly changing situation related to COVID-19, here is a summary of recent changes to this page:

Monday, May 18

Thursday, May 14

Free On-Demand Webinar

MRSC recorded a webinar on March 16 addressing some of the issues faced by local governments in Washington State due to COVID-19, including a section on leave laws and other personnel issues (starts at 25:10) and remote meetings and Open Public Meetings Act (starts at 53:37). You may also download the slides*Some of the guidance regarding OPMA has been temporarily superseded by the governor's Proclamation 20-28 (issued March 24), which has subsequently been extended through May 31 (see Proclamation 20-28.2 and Proclamation 20-28.3).


Continuity of Operations/Continuity of Government Plans

Below are pandemic continuity of operations (COOP) and continuity of government (COG) plans adopted or revised in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For additional information, see our blog post Continuity of Operations During the COVID-19 Emergency.


Telecommuting

Following the guidance of public health officials and the governor's office, many local government staff members are working from home/telecommuting. WaTech, a state agency, has created an IT resources and checklist document, including links to state master contracts, for local governments to help agencies transition to a remote workforce.

Below are examples of temporary telecommuting authorizations for the current COVID-19 crisis. For general telecommuting policies, see our Telecommuting page.

If your jurisdiction has adopted policies, proclamations, or other documents related to COVID-19, please consider sending them to our librarian Gabrielle Nicas at gnicas@mrsc.org so that we may share them with other local governments.


Remote Council/Commission Meetings

Governor Inslee's Proclamation 20-28 (originally issued March 24, with the OPMA provisions now extended through May 31 by the state legislature, Proclamation 20-28.2, and Proclamation 20-28.3) temporarily prohibits any agency from conducting any meetings subject to the Open Public Meetings Act in-person and requires all such meetings to be conducted remotely with options for the public to attend remotely. Importantly, the proclamation requires telephonic participation as a minimum. A jurisdiction cannot opt to do only video or other Internet-based streaming, but must provide a call-in number so that participants can hear the meeting.

The Proclamation also waives requirements to physically post notices of meetings and meeting adjournments on-site. However, agencies are still required to post notices to their websites (if applicable) and notify local news organizations as usual.

Agencies are also prohibited from taking “action,” as defined in RCW 42.30.020(3), unless those matters are necessary and routine matters or are matters necessary to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and the current public health emergency, until such time as regular public participation under the Open Public Meetings Act is possible.

For more information, see the following MRSC blog posts:

Also see the state Attorney General's Office COVID-19 Open Public Meetings Act guidance, originally issued March 6 and subsequently updated and extended to reflect the governor's OPMA proclamations. 


Essential Services and Employees

Effective March 23, Gov. Inslee issued Proclamation 20-25 ("Stay Home, Stay Healthy") except for designated essential businesses and employees. Also see the supplemental memorandum regarding construction activities (issued on March 25) and the guidance bulletin listing additional essential industries (first issued March 31 and which will periodically be updated). The initial two-week order was extended through May 4 (Proclamation 20-25.1) and again through May 31 (Proclamation 20-25.3), with modifications for certain low-risk businesses and counties.

Some employees are clearly designated as essential, such as public health, police, and fire employees, as well as those staff performing activities necessary to support first responders. However, there are a number of gray areas, including construction, permitting, and inspections.

For more information on what this order means for local governments, see our blog post Essential Services and Workers During the COVID-19 Emergency. The State of Washington also has a webpage about Essential Businesses, including an online form where employers can request clarification as to whether they are considered "essential" or to request inclusion on the list of essential businesses.

Construction Affidavits: The City of Sammamish has provided the following documents related to construction activity and will continue providing inspections as necessary:

A number of local agencies have written letters to be carried by essential personnel and placed in agency vehicles. Some have taken additional steps to ensure the letters are not lost, damaged, or destroyed, such as laminating the letters or recommending that employees take pictures of the letter to store in their phones. See the following examples, with special thanks to the Washington Association of Sewer and Water Districts (WASWD) and Sound Cities Association for their assistance:


Disease Prevention in the Workplace

Some jurisdictions have also established guidelines or health screenings for employees who are coming into work to reduce the likelihood of exposure. See the examples below (some of which were adopted before the governor's stay-at-home order).

  • Pacific COVID-19 Pandemic Preventative and Emergency Response Plan (2020) – Very comprehensive plan includes employee and city responsibilities, social distancing, cleaning, alternate shifts, telecommuting, and leave policies including FFCRA. Also includes alternate work schedule request form and paycheck deduction form for sick leave advances.
  • Port of Port Townsend COVID-19 Pandemic Response (2020) – Clarifying that port employees are essential workers under the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, but changing port policies to ensure adequate social distancing, including rotating work crew schedules to one week on/one week off with paid administrative leave.
  • Pullman Temporary Infectious Disease Control Policy (2020) – Outlines expectations and steps employees are to take to reduce the transmission of disease in the workplace. Includes additional measures to be followed at the direction of the mayor or city administrator.
  • Renton Emergency Order No. 2000-1 (2020) – Requires employees/contractors who suspect they have contracted/were exposed to COVID-19 to report to HR and prohibits them from reporting to city facilities without HR approval. HR may waive normal paid leave/telework policies to avoid financial hardship to exposed workers who are required to stay home.
  • Shoreline COVID-19 Employee Health Screening Instructions (2020) – Provides instructions to employees who will be coming in to a city facility to work, for meetings, or to pick up/drop off items; all employees must complete a daily health check/report prior to coming to work, or else immediately upon arrival at work.

Employee Pay and Leave Issues

New Federal Legislation: Families First Coronavirus Response Act

On March 18, the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was signed into law, taking effect on April 1. The law contains a number of provisions applicable to employers. For all public agencies, this includes an expansion of federal Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) and up to 10 days of emergency paid sick leave for certain COVID-19 related reasons, both of which expire December 31.

There will also be a requirement to notify laid-off workers of their potential eligibility for unemployment benefits at the time of separation.

For more information, see the following resources:

Posting Requirements

Employers subject to FFCRA must post a DOL poster (there are separate versions for federal employees and non-federal employees) about FFCRA and employees rights in a conspicuous place on the premises by April 1. DOL has advised that, since many employees are telecommuting, employers may satisfy this requirement by mailing or emailing the notice to employees, or by posting it on the agency's internal or external website for employees to see. For more information, see DOL's FFCRA Notice Frequently Asked Questions.  

During the current crisis, some employees must take time off work due to various issues such as illness, quarantine, the closure of certain facilities, or the lack of childcare due to school closures. For general guidance on what types of leave might apply in various situations, see the Employment Security Department's information For Workers and Businesses Affected by COVID-19 (Coronavirus), which includes a helpful comparison chart.

In addition, some jurisdictions have amended their local leave policies. Below are examples we have received, but please note that some of these policies were adopted before passage of the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and may not include those leave programs.

Policies Incorporating FFCRA

  • Maple Valley Amended COVID-19 Pandemic Pay (2020) – Adopted March 31; establishes pandemic pay for employees with first-level COVID-19 exposure or who have been directed by the city manager to telecommute or work on-site but cannot due to state or federal mandates. Excludes employees who are receiving unemployment benefits or paid leave under FFCRA.
  • Pacific COVID-19 Pandemic Preventative and Emergency Response Plan (2020) – Very comprehensive plan includes employee and city responsibilities, social distancing, cleaning, alternate shifts, telecommuting, and leave policies including FFCRA. Also includes alternate work schedule request form and paycheck deduction form for sick leave advances.
  • Pierce County Current COVID-19 Work, Stay Home Order, and Leave Guidance – Discusses what leave may be used in which situations and procedures to follow
    • Expanded FMLA Leave Request Form (2020) – Allows eligible employees to request expanded FMLA leave under FFCRA if they are unable to work due to care of the employee's child under 18 years of age as a result of school or childcare closure due to COVID-19.
  • Pullman Temporary Leave Policy and Program (2020) – Includes 80 hours of temporary leave from a city-funded catastrophic leave bank for employees impacted by COVID-19, to be replaced in early April by the 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

Policies Enacted Prior to FFCRA

  • Bothell Advance Sick Leave Request Form (2020) – Form for employees who have no leave available to request up to 24 hours of sick leave in advance under city pandemic flu policy
  • Burien Modified Shared Leave Program (2020) – Temporary modification to shared leave program; authorizes employees to donate accrued vacation and/or sick leave to a pool for the use by City employees who are affected by the immediate crisis surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Includes donation form.
  • Covington Water District Resolution No. 4410 (2020) – Implements a compensation policy for some employees sent home who are unable to work remotely, allowing them to be on-call and receive compensation. Also provides for 10 additional sick days for employees who contract COVID-19 or live with someone who does.
  • Cowlitz County PUD No.1 COVID-19 Supplemental and Pandemic Leave Authorization (2020) – Provides 60-80 hours of supplemental leave to all employees to reduce spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). May be used if employee or person employee lives with tests positive for COVID-19 or exhibits symptoms, or if child’s school is closed due to COVID-19. 
  • Duvall COVID-19 Child Care Leave Memorandum (2020) – Mayor authorizes employees with school-age children to stay home with full pay/benefits for four days while they make childcare arrangements. Employees needing extra time must discuss with supervisor; additional time off requires use of accrued sick leave, vacation, or comp time
  • Renton COVID-19 School Closure Impact Survey (2020) – Survey distributed to employees to gain a better understanding of their childcare needs due to school closures
  • Shoreline COVID-19 Emergency Pay and Leave Policy & Procedure (2020) – Emergency policy providing guidance and establishing procedures for the use of paid leave and pay for city employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Includes sick leave, donated leave, family and medical leave, and city closure pay.

Gift of Public Funds Issues

A number of local governments have asked whether certain actions to combat COVID-19 – such as making payments to nonprofits to support childcare services, or providing employees with paid leave if they are ordered not to come to work – would violate the constitutional gift of public funds prohibition.

The state Attorney General's office weighed in on this issue with a memorandum (2020) concluding that generally speaking, local governments have broad authority to make expenditures combating COVID-19 because such efforts further fundamental public purposes such as protecting public health and welfare.

The Attorney General's Office has also provided additional guidance regarding gift of public funds issues pertaining to economic relief to small businesses and low-income residents. For more information on that topic, see our page on Coronavirus (COVID-19) Small Business and Tenant Assistance Programs


Employee Communications

Below examples of communications from local governments to their staff regarding COVID-19. Please note that these are provided as point-in-time examples only and do not necessarily reflect the most recent actions taken by these jurisdictions.


Planning and Permitting

Deciding how to handle local permitting and inspections during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult issue for Washington’s local governments. Governor Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy Order issued on March 23, 2020 has made it even more challenging. In many cases, development review and inspection staff are working remotely from home, which means that normal work activities are being handled differently and response times may be slower than usual.

For more information, see our blog post Handling Development Permitting and Inspections During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

In addition, below are examples of local planning and permitting procedures and other documents related to COVID-19. This section will be expanded further as we receive additional examples.

  • Bothell Ordinance No. 2312 (April 7) – Temporarily postpones expiration of development applications, approved land use actions, and constructions permits, and temporarily tolls procedural deadlines. Expires October 7, 2020.
  • Buckley Ordinance No. 07-20 (April 28) – Temporarily postpones expiration of development applications and approved land use actions and construction permits and temporarily tolls procedural deadlines in response to COVID-19 public health emergency.
  • Lake Stevens Ordinance No. 1084 (April 14) – Interim ordinance authorizes city officials to temporarily grant extensions to development applications, approved land use actions and construction permits in response to COVID-19 pandemic. Expires October 22, 2020.
  • Pierce County Ordinance No. 2020-46 (April 14) – Timeline and expiration dates associated with permit applications and approvals are suspended in response to COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Sammamish:
  • Snohomish County Ordinance No. 20-027 (April 20) – Adopts interim official control to suspend and toll the expiration time periods for all applications, approvals, and permits regulated by Snohomish County Code 30.70.140 in response to COVID-19 public health emergency.

Last Modified: May 26, 2020