Can Employers in Washington State Require Employees to Vaccinated Against Covid-19?

As vaccination against Covid-19 rolls out, employers want to know if they can require employees to get vaccinated. In Washington State, the short answer is, yes, but employers must do so in ways that comply with wage-and-hour rules, and other rules regarding employment. For example, requiring vaccination means the employee’s travel time, and time spent receiving the vaccine, are part of their work hours, and therefore such time is part of the employee’s paid time.  Not surprisingly, an employee cannot be prohibited from  using sick leave to recuperate from side effects they may have from the vaccine.  Depending on the needs of the business, some advance notice by the employee of their vaccine appointment may be appropriate.  If you are reluctant to require vaccination, an alternative option may be to encourage and incentivize employees to get vaccinated.  All in all, if you are a Washington employer and would like a vaccinated workforce, there are options.

Fortunately, Washington’s Department of Health and Department of Labor & Industries have each issued guidance to employers.  See: and

Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”)

Alphabet soup of the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security” (“CARES”) Act got you confused? You already know about, and may have received funds from, various programs of the CARES Act such as the “Paycheck Protection Program “(“PPP”), or the expanded “Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program” (“EIDL”) from the U.S. Small Business Administration (“SBA”).

But are you aware of the FFCRA?  That’s the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act”.  It requires companies that have fewer than 500 employees to provide paid leave to employees for certain Coronavirus-related reasons.  The FFCRA went into effect April 1, 2020, and will remain in effect until December 31, 2020.


REQUIRED WORKPLACE POSTER: As of April 1, 2020, a workplace poster from the US Department of Labor is required to be posted and/or sent (e.g., emailed) to employees.  A copy can be obtained from the US DOL.  The English version is available via this link:   The poster is available in several languages, so check the US DOL website for copies that may be applicable for your employees (Spanish, Chinese, Hmong, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog, Thai, Vietnamese).  The US DOL website has other workplace posters too, so while you are there, check to see if there are others that your business may be required to post.

FFCRA BASICS: Businesses with fewer than 500 employees (“covered businesses”), must give employees paid sick leave if leave is needed due to the coronavirus. However, the rate of pay varies depending on the specific reason for leave.  The amount of leave available to the employee also varies depending on the reason for the employee having to take time off.

There are two sets of leave:  (1) two weeks, i.e., up to 80 hours, and; (2) employees who have been with the employer at least 30 days may also be entitled to an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave if they have to be out in order to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed due to COVID-19 related reasons.  This means some employees may be entitled to up to 12 weeks of paid leave, in certain circumstances.

1.  First two weeks: the employer must give two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular pay rate (up to $511/day) if an employee is unable to work because they are quarantined (quarantine is by government order or on advice of a health care provider), and/or is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis.

However, if the employee is unable to work not because the employee is sick, but because: (i) they are caring for someone who is subject to quarantine by government order or on advice of a health care provider, or (ii) if the employee must care for a child younger than 18 whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19, then the employer must give up to two weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave at two-thirds of the employee’s regular pay rate (up to $200/day).

2.  Additional ten (10) weeks: If the employee is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed due to COVID-19 related reasons, the employee is entitled to take an additional 10 weeks of paid leave, at 2/3 the employee’s regular rate of pay (up to $200/day).

To help businesses provide paid leave, the FFCRA authorizes tax credits which can lower your tax bill.  Not surprisingly, the IRS has numerous rules about this, so contact your CPA for details.

The FFCRA is just one of several programs created to help businesses and employees manage during the COVID-19 crisis.  If you find yourself overwhelmed or just needing a bit of help navigating the maze, contact a lawyer today.