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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:

Friday, July 31

  • The state legislative leadership and Proclamation 20-28.8 have extended the existing Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and Public Records Act (PRA) provisions through 11:59 PM on September 1 with no further changes.
  • Proclamation 20-64 prohibits public agencies, including local governments, from releasing the personally identifying and contact information gathered by COVID-19 contact tracers or in customer/visitor/employee logs in response to a public records request. This prohibition does not apply to the name or location of a business or entity that is part of a contact tracing investigation. The proclamation expires August 29 at 11:59 PM.

Wednesday, July 29

  • Proclamation 20-46.2 extends the existing employment protections for high-risk workers for the duration of the statewide emergency, or until the proclamation is amended or rescinded. Includes new memorandum clarifying the scope of the order and when an employer may require an employee to submit verification from a medical provider.

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.


Remote Council/Commission Meetings

Governor Inslee's Proclamation 20-28 (originally issued March 24 and extended most recently through September 1 by the state legislative leaders and the governor), temporarily prohibits agencies from conducting meetings subject to the Open Public Meetings Act in-person and requires 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.

However, beginning July 2 with Proclamation 20-28.6, any public agencies holding meetings in counties currently in Phase 3 may optionally, in addition to the remote meeting elements, include an in-person component to a public meeting if all of the conditions in the proclamation are followed, including six feet of physical separation between attendees, compliance with facial covering requirements, and other provisions. If at any time the in-person component of the meeting cannot meet these requirements, the entire meeting (including the phone/remote component) must be adjourned, continued, or terminated until the conditions can be met.

Beginning July 20, maximum in-person attendance is reduced from 50 people to 10 people. Proclamation 20-28.6 requires local agencies to allow everyone who wants to attend the in-person component to do so. It also says that if you cannot meet any of the safety requirements, you must adjourn or continue the entire meeting until you can meet those requirements. So, if the in-person component exceeds the 10-person limit you would have to adjourn the meeting until you reduced the physical attendees to 10 or fewer. However, this may create a conflict with the requirement to let everyone who wants to attend in person to do so. You could adjourn to a remote-only meeting or continue the meeting to another time.

Agencies were originally prohibited from taking "action," as defined in RCW 42.30.020(3), unless those matters were 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. However, that provision was removed by Proclamation 20-28.4, and effective June 1 legislative bodies may once again take "action" at their meetings.

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

Proclamation 20-25.4 (“Safe Start, Stay Healthy”) transitions the state from the "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" program. It provides for a phased approach to reopening, while still allowing local governments to continue to provide essential services. For more detail see the supplemental memorandum regarding construction activities (issued on March 25) and the guidance bulletin listing additional essential industries (issued March 31).

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, 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.


Disease Prevention in the Workplace and Safe Reopening

For current information on facial covering requirements in the workplace, see our blog post COVID-19 Facial Coverings – What's Required?

Customer-facing government services are included within Phase 3 of the state's Safe Start Washington plan, with telework still strongly encouraged in Phase 3.

Each entity operating in Phase 3 must develop a written safety plan outlining how its workplace will prevent the spread of COVID-19. Entities may fill out the state's Phase 3 Safe Start Plan Template or may develop their own safety plans. On June 19, Governor Inslee issued a memo to local governments encouraging them to use the Safe Start Reopening Guide for State Agencies as a resource when developing their own Safe Start Plans.

Entities do not have to submit the plan to the state or the county public health department for approval, but they must retain a copy on the premises and make it available to state or local authorities in the event of an inspection.

Other businesses and entities are still required to follow the state’s industry-specific re-opening guidance, if issued for that industry.

For additional considerations, see MRSC's May 14 blog post Planning for the Safe Reopening of Public Buildings.

Many 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 and subsequent amendments).


Employee Pay and Leave Issues

New Federal Legislation: Families First Coronavirus Response Act

The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), effective April 1, 2020, 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. Employers must post and distribute a Department of Labor poster to inform employees of their rights under FFCRA.

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:

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.

Governor Inslee’s Proclamation 20-46, originally issued on April 13 and now extended for the duration of the statewide emergency or until amended or rescinded (see Proclamation 20-46.2), also provides additional employment rights for workers at high risk for COVID-19 complications. For more information, see our blog post Additional Rights for Employees at High Risk for Coronavirus Complications.

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.


Public Records Act

The governor and the state legislative leaders have issues several temporary waivers and prohibitions related to the Public Records Act. For more information, see:

These orders do not relieve agencies from otherwise complying with the PRA during the COVID-19 emergency. Due to the pandemic JLARC staff have also extended the July 1 reporting deadline for 2019 public records metrics to September 1, 2020.


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 posts Handling Development Permitting and Inspections During the COVID-19 Pandemic (April 10) and Quickly Switching Over to an Online Permitting/Plan Review System (June 18).

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: July 31, 2020