On April 8, 2021, Washington Governor Jay Inslee issued Proclamation 20-46.3, which modifies proclamations issued in 2020 that provide employment and benefit protections during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency for “high-risk employees.” (For purposes of the Proclamation, a “high-risk employee” is any employee that the Centers for Disease Control defines as being more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19.) This is a new development since our July 2020 Client Update, “State of Washington Extends Existing Protections for “High-Risk Workers” Amid COVID-19.”
Among other modifications (e.g., with respect to medical verification of high-risk status), Proclamation 20-46.3 will no longer prohibit Washington employers from failing to fully maintain health insurance benefits for high-risk employees. Except to the extent benefits are otherwise required to continue (e.g., under FMLA or a collective bargaining agreement), an employer may now terminate health insurance benefits for an employee covered by the proclamation, provided that: (1) the employer gives the affected employee 14 calendar days’ advance written notice of the change; and (2) the coverage termination does not take effect before the first day of the calendar month after the month in which the 14-day notice lapses.
When it released Proclamation 20-46.3, Governor Inslee’s office also issued a set of Frequently Asked Questions discussing this and other modifications. Employers who are considering terminating health insurance coverage for any high-risk employees should consult with their legal counsel to ensure compliance with the Proclamation and other applicable laws, such as the Affordable Care Act, ERISA, and the NLRA.