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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 COVID-19, including telecommuting and remote meetings, continuity of operations, reopening plans, 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:

Thursday, November 4

Friday, October 29

  • The Department of Health (DOH) has published Interim SARS-CoV-2 Self-Testing Guidance for Employers, which provides information to help non-healthcare employers determine the potential use of COVID self-tests and/or develop self-testing policies. If the employer directs the use of self-testing in any of the ways described in the document, the employer must receive a CLIA Certificate of Waiver from DOH and report all test results to DOH.

Tuesday, October 26

  • Added Mountlake Terrace mandatory vaccination policy for employees (issued October 13), which requires all city employees to be vaccinated. Provides detailed timeline with multiple deadlines: (1) already vaccinated employees must provide proof within 14 days of policy implementation, (2) non-vaccinated employees seeking medical/religious accommodation must apply within 14 days, (3) non-vaccinated employees must receive first vaccine dose (Johnson & Johnson or first dose of mRNA series) within 21 days and, for two-dose mRNA vaccines only, second dose within 49 days.

Friday, October 22

  • Added Island County Resolution No. C-52-21 (August 17, 2021) providing ARPA-funded premium pay to certain employees for work performed after resolution was adopted; resolution was written to comply with state prohibition against retroactive pay increases to public 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 policies adopted in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Some jurisdictions are also making more permanent changes to their telecommuting/remote work policies based on their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic; for examples of permanent telecommuting policies see our page on Telecommuting.


Public 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. Effective June 30, 2021, there are no longer any capacity limitations or physical distancing requirements, and while masking is required for unvaccinated individuals, verification is not required for members of the public (although local governments may optionally choose to require verification for unmasked attendees).

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.

According to prior conversations with the governor's office and Association of Washington Cities, speakers at a public meeting may remove their cloth face covering or mask for the time they are speaking, although a a shared podium, witness stand, or equipment should not be touched without being sanitized after each person has used it.

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, but 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.


Reopening Plans and Policies

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.

The state originally issued public health guidance documents for specific industries, several of which impacted local governments, but most of these documents were rescinded by June 30, 2021 and are no longer in effect.

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 or may not reflect the latest developments such as changing guidance on face masks).

For more information, see the following MRSC blog posts:

Also see the section below on Face Masks and Vaccinations.

Plans Adopted or Updated in 2021

Plans Adopted or Updated in 2020

  • Des Moines Comprehensive COVID-19 Plan – Addresses employees, volunteers, members of the public, and more
  • Gig Harbor COVID-19 Information – See "City Training Video and Information" section, which includes city's comprehensive COVID-19 plan, employee training materials, and visitor's log for contact tracing purposes
  • King County COVID-19 Workplace Procedures for Employees (August 26, 2020) – Intended to help employees conducting in-person essential business or returning to work
  • 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.
  • Port of Port Townsend COVID-19 Pandemic Response (March 25, 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 (March 26, 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 (March 11, 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.
  • Skamania County Reopening Plans/Return to Work Guidelines (July 1, 2020) – Lists general guidelines for all departments, as well as more detailed guidelines for individual departments

Face Masks and Vaccinations

Local governments must follow the current facial covering requirements issued by the governor, state secretary of health, or local public health officer, whichever is more stringent. Local governments may also issue their own facial covering requirements for employees and visitors that are more stringent than the state or local public health requirements.

For more information on local, state, and federal vaccine requirements, see the following MRSC blog posts:

Below are selected examples of local vaccine/face mask policies and forms; note that these are provided as examples only and may not reflect the current public health guidance.

Mandatory Vaccination Policies

  • Bellingham Executive Order No. 2021-02 (September 21, 2021) – Requires all city employees, volunteers, and on-site indoor contractors (as defined in the order) to be fully vaccinated by December 3, 2021.
  • Carnation Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination Policy (October 5, 2021) – Requires employees, volunteers, and certain contractors to provide proof of full vaccination by November 23, 2021. Includes additional paid time off for employees to receive and recover from vaccinations.
  • Duvall Resolution No 21-12 (August 17, 2021) – Current employees must receive their first injection within five days of the effective date and be fully vaccinated within seven weeks. Employees and applicants are considered "fully vaccinated" for a period of 12 months after their final dose but must receive recommended booster vaccinations to maintain fully vaccinated status. Employees who are not fully vaccinated must provide proof of a negative test result twice per week until they are fully vaccinated. Includes medical/religious accommodation request forms.
  • Friday Harbor Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination Policy (October 7, 2021) – Requires all employees and volunteers to provide proof of full vaccination by December 7, 2021
  • Mountlake Terrace Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination Policy (October 13, 2021) – Requires all city employees to be vaccinated. Provides detailed timeline with multiple deadlines:
    • Already vaccinated employees must provide proof within 14 days of policy implementation
    • Non-vaccinated employees seeking medical/religious accommodation must apply within 14 days
    • Non-vaccinated employees must receive first vaccine dose (Johnson & Johnson or first dose of mRNA series) within 21 days and, for two-dose mRNA vaccines only, second dose within 49 days.
  • Shoreline Resolution No. 483 (October 4, 2021) – Requires all employees, elected/appointed officials, volunteers, and in-person contractors to be fully vaccinated by December 1, 2021. Those eligible for booster shots, as determined by FDA, CDC, and/or state health officer, must receive booster shots within 30 days of eligibility. Also includes staff report and draft resolution.

Vaccine Accommodations/Exemptions

Other Vaccine/Face Mask Policies

  • Issaquah COVID-19 Protection Plan and Policy Updates (May 21, 2021) – Continues to require all employees to wear face masks regardless of vaccination status; requirements will be reconsidered when vaccination across city departments reaches 70%. City is offering time-off incentives to current employees who get vaccinated; vaccination will be mandatory for new hires. 
  • Kittitas County Vaccination and Mask Policy (June 1, 2021) – Includes process for documenting employee vaccinations, as well as self-attestation form for employees to sign.
  • Spokane County COVID-19 Vaccination Attestation Process and Form (July 6, 2021) – Outlines process for employees to verify vaccination status if the employee wishes to work mask-free; includes signed self-attestation form for employees who do not want to show their vaccination card

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 have received federal tax credits for FFCRA leave provided to employees, state and local governments were ineligible for tax credits under the original legislation. However, with the passage of the American Rescue Plan, local governments are now eligible for federal tax credits for any voluntary paid leave provided under ARPA between April 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021 only.

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 et seq., originally issued on April 13, 2020 and subsequently modified and extended several times, is rescinded effective 11:59 PM on June 28, 2021. This proclamation has been substantially replaced by ESSB 5115, the Health Emergency Labor Standards Act (HELSA), which took effect May 11, 2021. For more information on HELSA, see the Department of Labor & Industries Q&A on Protecting High-Risk Employees from Discrimination During Public Health Emergencies.


Premium Pay/Employee Bonuses

A number of local governments have expressed interest in providing premium pay, hazard pay, or bonuses to their employees in recognition for their hard work to provide essential services to the public during the pandemic, in some cases at considerable risk to their safety and health.

However, while the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allows funds to be used for retroactive premium pay, Washington state law prohibits public employees from receiving retroactive pay increases. For more information on this topic, see our blog post Employee Bonuses and the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Any provisions to provide hazard pay or premium pay to local government employees should be written with state law in mind. For an example of a premium pay resolution that was written to avoid providing a retroactive pay increase, see:

  • Island County Resolution No. C-52-21 (August 17. 2021) – Provides ARPA-funded premium pay of $12/hour, up to maximum total of $2,880 per employee, to regular employees budgeted at 20 or more hours/week. To be eligible, employees must be required to perform on-site job duties (as opposed to teleworking) in an area of potential exposure to COVID-19 and be employed as of August 17, 2021; employee will receive premium pay up to 40 hours/week between August 29 and October 9, 2021.

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: November 16, 2021