By Carolyn Logue,
CA Logue Public Affairs
It is summer which usually means things quiet down with legislative sessions over. However, this year is a bit different with all states under a state of emergency, businesses still reeling from the shut downs associated with the COVID-19 crisis and many members of NWHPBA negotiating the oft touted “new normal” for their businesses.
While NWHPBA is most active right now in Washington state working with other employer associations to sort out and navigate unemployment insurance claim issues, all states have faced some level of increased unemployment rates. These increased unemployment rates and continued payment of increased benefit levels could impact employer UI tax rates – even with federal dollars and fraud recovery (if the state was hit hard by fraud – Washington state lost almost $1 billion). The way unemployment insurance funding works, layoffs generally increase employer unemployment tax rates. However, since these layoffs were generated by forces beyond employer control, many legislators and congressional representatives will be looking to see if the costs could be borne by more general funds rather than through increasing employer taxes. For all businesses in all states, unemployment insurance issues are worth watching.
COVID-19 UPDATE – Mask Mandates
As COVID cases continue to surge in many states, mask mandates are becoming more frequent. While Alaska and Idaho have not issued statewide mask mandates, both of those states do have several local jurisdictions that have ordered mandatory face coverings in public spaces. On July 15, Montana’s Governor Steve Burdick ordered
to have mandatory mask orders. Washington State’s Governor Jay Inslee ordered a
statewide mask mandate
on July 7
that can carry fines of up to $9600 for a business if they are enforcing mask or face covering use among employees. These fines can also apply if the business is allowing customers in without masks but the state does recognize that enforcement of this mandate is difficult for many businesses and can put employees at risk of harm. The important thing with mask mandates is to understand the rules of your local or state requirements and do your best as a retailer to enforce. For customers who won’t wear masks, it is best to offer curbside or other alternatives to shopping in the store. If the customer does insist, do your best to help maintain social distancing while they are in the store. Have a plan and do your best. Hopefully implementation of these mask mandates will be effective and help avoid a second round of economic closures.
As of this writing, none of the NWHPBA states are planning to come back into special session despite some legislators calling for special sessions and despite budget issues in virtually every state related to the COVID-19 crisis. In all of the states, Governors have stated that they will not call legislators back in unless there are specific issues to be dealt with and agreements in place to avoid long debates. Even Washington state – which at one point looked like it would be back in session in August – has had its Governor and majority legislators opt to not come back in at this point in time. This could change but right now it looks like legislators are saving the tough work for after November elections and will wait until regular sessions begin in January.
Changes in Washington overtime rules took effect July 1
Updates to Washington’s rules that spell out what type of workers don’t have to receive overtime pay took effect July 1. The rules establish the criteria for certain workers to be considered exempt from getting overtime pay and other protections under the State Minimum Wage Act.
Washington State Department of Labor & Industries
(L&I) announced the changes last December after a lengthy public process. It involved numerous public hearings and taking comments and input from more than 2,400 people.
The first aspect of the update is to the part of the rules known as the “job duties test.” In general, it helps determine which workers are considered executive, administrative, and professional employees, as well as computer professionals and outsides salespeople. Workers who fit into these categories based on the duties they perform, and earn more than the required salary threshold, can be considered exempt.
Washington currently uses two job duties tests to determine if an employee could be classified as exempt, but as of July 1 the state is using a single test aligned more closely with federal standards. The test for each exemption spells out what duties an employee must perform to be classified as exempt, regardless of the employee’s job title or job description.
Under the other key element of the changes, the state is basing the salary threshold on a multiplier of the state minimum wage. That threshold will increase incrementally until it reaches 2.5 times the minimum wage in 2028.
The threshold change will not impact most salaried workers this year because Washington employers will continue to follow the federal standard for the rest of 2020. That’s because the federal requirement that a salaried worker needs to earn at least $684 per week to be exempt
from overtime is still slightly more favorable to employees than the new state threshold. Employers will have to meet the state threshold beginning Jan. 1, 2021, when it exceeds the federal level.
L&I has created a number of tools that explain the rules changes, including an online course that details the updates and leads users through a series of questions and answers to help determine if a worker meets the requirements to be considered exempt. More information is available on our
overtime rulemaking web page,
and the tools can be found on our
Resource Center web page
WASHINGTON STATE DELAYS NEW ENERGY CODES BUT CONTINUES REGULATORY WORK TO REDUCE GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS
The Washington State Building Code Council recognized the challenges contractors are having getting supplies and appropriate training for employees and further delayed implementation of the new state energy codes to February 1, 2021 (originally they were to go into effect on July 1, 2020). This will help but still means the industry has to work on how to ensure gas fireplaces can fit within the new point scale contractors must adopt to show they are meeting the new code requirements. In addition to the energy codes, threats to natural gas continue to pop up in the state via local proposals to ban or curtail the use of natural gas. This is going to remain a priority issue for NWHPBA. It will be important for all states to stay vigilant at the local and state levels to ensure gas and propane use are not threatened – just as we stay vigilant on woodstove issues. If you are a Washington State member and want to track the updates to the state’s Energy Strategy, click
to receive updates.