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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, continuity of operations, FFCRA leave, vaccinations, and more.

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, April 12

  • Governor Inslee has announced that three counties (Cowlitz, Pierce, and Whitman) are not meeting the Phase 3 metrics and will roll back to Phase 2 effective Friday, April 16. The other 36 counties will remain in Phase 3, and all counties will be reevaluated again in three weeks on Monday, May 3. For more details, see the governor's Medium post.

Friday, April 9

  • The governor's office has clarified that in order for a county to move backward one phase, it must fail the metrics for both case counts and hospitalizations. Previously, a county only needed to fail one metric to move backward. For more information, see the governor's press release.
  • Governor Inslee has issued Proclamation 20-46.3 regarding high-risk workers. This proclamation will allow employers additional flexibilty to seek medical verification from employees and to shift employees to health coverage alternatives. Also see the newly released FAQs for high-risk employees.


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, 2020, temporarily prohibited agencies from conducting meetings subject to the Open Public Meetings Act in-person and required such meetings to be conducted remotely with options for the public to attend remotely. This proclamation has been extended and amended a number of times; the current requirements are described below.

All public agencies must provide a remote participation option for their public meetings. Importantly, the proclamation requires telephonic participation at 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.

Beginning December 8, 2020 with Proclamation 20-28.14 et seq., any public agencies may, in addition to the remote meeting elements, include an optional in-person component to a public meeting if all of the conditions in the proclamation are followed, including complying with the guidelines for “business meetings” in the state’s Miscellaneous Venues guidance, six feet of physical separation between attendees, compliance with facial covering requirements, and other provisions.

Please note that the Miscellaneous Venues guidance linked from Proclamation 20-28.14 is now outdated. At the time Proclamation 20-28.14 was issued, the Miscellaneous Venues guidance prohibited all business meetings and, by extension, all in-person meetings. However, the Miscellaneous Venues guidance has subsequently been updated to allow an in-person public meeting component option for jurisdictions in Phases 2 and 3, as long as they comply with the capacity and social distancing guidelines established by the governor's office for each Phase. (Note that staff members do not count toward the capacity limits.)

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.

If the in-person component exceeds the maximum attendance limit as determined by the Miscellaneous Venues guidance, you would have to adjourn the meeting until you reduced the attendees below the maximum limit. 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 legislative bodies have been allowed to take "action" at their meetings since June 1, 2020.

For more information, see the following MRSC blog posts:

As an example, see Issaquah's Council Rules of Procedure, amended September 21, 2020 to address remote attendance during emergencies.

Also see the state Attorney General's Office COVID-19 Open Public Meetings Act guidance, originally issued March 6, 2020 and subsequently updated and extended to reflect the governor's OPMA proclamations. However, the AG guidance has not been updated since June 19, 2020.


Essential Services and Employees

Proclamation 20-25.4 (“Safe Start, Stay Healthy”) began to transition 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, 2020) and the guidance bulletin listing additional essential industries (issued March 31, 2020).

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?

On June 19, 2020, Governor Inslee issued a memo to local governments encouraging them to use the Safe Start Reopening Guide for State Agencies, which the state updates as needed, as a resource when developing their own Safe Start Plans.

Jurisdictions may also refer to the state's Phase 3 Safe Start Plan template, which was originally issued in summer 2020 under the former "Safe Start" plan which has since been superseded. The general health and safety considerations are still helpful, but make sure to check the state's current public health guidance.

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, 2020 blog post Planning for the Safe Reopening of Public Buildings which still contains useful guidance.

Many jurisdictions have also established guidelines and procedures for essential employees or other employees who are returning to in-person work. Below are a number of examples (some of which were adopted before the governor's stay-at-home order and subsequent amendments).


Vaccinations

For information regarding COVID-19 vaccinations in the workforce, see:


Employee Leave and FFCRA

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 the closure of in-person schooling or daycare.

The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) required all public agency employers to provide up to 12 weeks of emergency paid sick leave and expanded Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) for certain COVID-19 related reasons. The original law expired December 31, 2020, and public employers are no longer required to provide FFCRA leave.

However, the federal Coronavirus Response Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CCRSA), signed on December 27, 2020, authorized employers to optionally provide FFCRA leave through March 31, 2021 to employees who had not yet exhausted their FFCRA leave.

The American Rescue Plan Act ("ARPA" or "ARP") further expanded these provisions, authorizing employers to voluntarily provide 10 additional days of FFCRA leave between April 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021 and adding an additional qualifying reason related to COVID-19 diagnostic tests and immunizations.

While private employers receive a federal tax credit for FFCRA leave provided to employees, none of these bills allow government agencies to receive an FFCRA tax credit.

For more information, see the following resources:

In addition, employees may be able to use various other local or state leave programs to take time off work. For more information, including a summary of which types of leave may be available in the most common scenarios, see the state Employment Security Department's page on COVID-19 Business Information.

A number of jurisdictions have amended their local leave policies. Below are examples we have received, but please note that some of these policies were adopted before the passage of FFCRA and may not include those leave programs.

Policies Incorporating FFCRA

  • King County FFCRA Leave Request Form (April 10, 2020) – Form for employees to request emergency leave under FFCRA. Employees must select which situation applies to them and submit required documentation.
  • Maple Valley Amended COVID-19 Pandemic Pay (March 31, 2020) – 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 (April 2, 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 (March 20, 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 (March 26, 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 (March 16, 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 (March 24, 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 (March 14, 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 (March 12, 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 – 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 (March 9, 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.

Protections for High-Risk Workers

Governor Inslee’s Proclamation 20-46, originally issued on April 13, 2020 and now extended for the duration of the statewide emergency or until amended or rescinded (see Proclamation 20-46.3), 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.


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 also extended the July 1 reporting deadline for 2019 public records metrics to September 25, 2020, but this deadline has now passed.


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, 2020) and Quickly Switching Over to an Online Permitting/Plan Review System (June 18, 2020).

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, 2020) – 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, 2020) – 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, 2020) – 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, 2020) – 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, 2020) – 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: April 12, 2021