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August 19, 2022

Ninth Circuit Upholds Washington State Employee Public Health Measures

On August 11, a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected a challenge to state public health measures for certain agricultural workers on federal preemption grounds. In Flower World v. Sacks, the plaintiff challenged a Washington state health protocol requiring employers of agricultural workers to provide personal protective equipment, implement physical distancing, and conduct temperature checks prior to workers’ shifts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Washington Department of Labor and Industries’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health inspected the plaintiff’s business and issued a citation for failure to comply with the COVID-19 agricultural safety mandate. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision had overturned the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s rule mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for U.S. workers, finding that OSHA lacked statutory authority to impose federal public health standards rather than workplace safety standards. In light of this lack of federal statutory authority, the Ninth Circuit panel found that OSHA could not preempt Washington state’s general authority to regulate public health and safety. As a result, the panel upheld Washington’s agricultural employee safety mandate.

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