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Essential business Q&A

Updated 8:30 a.m., June 15, 2021
Do you have questions about what the Governor’s proclamation means for your business? We’ve got answers for the businesses we license.

Governor’s proclamations

All non-essential businesses in Washington must stop operations from midnight on March 23, 2020, until 11:59 p.m. on May 31, 2020.

Essential businesses can stay open if they use social distancing and sanitation measures. See Governor Inslee’s reopening guidance for businesses and workers.

More COVID-19 guidance from the Governor.

How does this affect businesses licensed by DOL?

  1. DOL licenses businesses that fall into 3 categories of Proclamation 20-25:
    Essential businesses, as defined by Proclamation 20-25. They can continue their essential services, using social distancing and hygiene measures.
  2. Businesses that have essential and non-essential parts. They can keep operating the essential part of the business using social distancing and hygiene measures.
  3. Non-essential businesses that meet the following guidelines:
    • Businesses whose employees or contractors do all work at their homes. They have no in-person contact with clients.
    • Businesses that are closed to the public, but doing minimum basic operations to maintain the value of the business.

Which DOL licensees have essential work?

DOL licensee What’s allowed by proclamation (page number of Appendix to Proclamation 20-25)
Auto dealers—repair shops and limited sales and leasing Automobile, motorcycle, bicycle, and motorized wheelchair/scooter repair and maintenance facilities are essential businesses (page 8).

Per Guidance issued on 3-31-20, auto dealers may conduct the following sales and leasing activities:

  • Close a pending transaction that began before 3-23-2020 (date Proclamation 20-25 issued).
  • Replace a vehicle that is totaled or impractical to repair.
  • Extend a lease that expires.
  • Lease or sell a vehicle to a transportation essential worker, if the person has no other means of transportation.

The above activities must comply with both of the following:

  • On-site visits by appointment only, scheduled remotely.
  • Only one employee may be in the showroom or office at any time, just for the time needed for the transaction.
Court reporters Proclamation 20-25 appendix states that courts are essential, with direction from the Washington State Chief Justice (page 10). Many courts are operating on a limited basis at this time.
Engineers/architects Engineers and architects can perform the functions listed in Proclamation 20-25 appendix:

  • Workers who support the operation, inspection, and maintenance of essential public works facilities and operations, including bridges…construction of critical infrastructure… essential dams, locks and levees (page 3).
  • Workers that maintain and inspect infrastructure (page 8).
Funeral homes/ cemeteries/crematories The following are essential:

  • Mortuary services, including funeral homes, crematoriums, and cemetery workers (page 2).
  • Workers who coordinate with other organizations to ensure the proper recovery, handling, identification, transportation, tracking, storage, and disposal of human remains and personal effects (page 2).

Governor Inslee clarified (along with DOL) on March 28, 2020: funeral homes and cemeteries can conduct funeral services for immediate family members only with social distancing.

Notaries Governor Inslee moved up the effective date of a law passed during the 2019 legislative session that allows remote notary services.

In addition, notaries can conduct services when required to complete essential transactions listed in the Appendix to Proclamation 20-25.  For example, “professional services, such as legal, or accounting and tax preparation services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities and critical sector services” (page 11).  Notaries must find ways to use proper social distancing and hygiene measures.

Security guards Private security services personnel are essential workers (page 3).
Taxis and limousines Taxis and Transportation Network Companies are essential (page 8).
Tow trucks Tow truck operators can clear a road to ensure the availability of needed transportation, which is identified as an essential service (page 3).
Vehicle transporters May transport vehicles to support the essential services listed in Appendix to Proclamation 20-25.

Questions and answers

My professional or business license has expired or will soon, but I can’t pay the renewal fee. Do I have to renew my license before it expires?
If your professional or business license expires between February 1, 2020 and August 31, 2020, and you have not been able to renew, you will not get fined. After August 31, 2020, you will need to have an active license to operate.
Please keep in mind:

  • Businesses can operate only if allowed by the Governor’s guidance.
  • There may be regulations set for your industry by other agencies or boards. These rules could determine whether you can work with an expired license. You must follow any rules set by these other parties.

Where can I go for help with unemployment?
Visit the Employment Security Department’s How to Get Help page.

What is the Governors Safe Start plan?
On May 1, 2020 the Governor announced the extension of his Stay Home, Stay Healthy order and outlined the phased “Safe Start” approach he and public health officials will take for resuming recreational, social and business activities.

The governor’s office will provide industry-specific guidance and safety criteria for businesses listed in each phase of the plan. Business activities are not authorized to open until a business is able to meet all safety criteria.

Where can I go to get guidance and safety criteria for reopening my business?
As guidance and safety criteria come available for businesses reopening, they will be added to the Safe Start page. Additional workplace safety guidance is available on the Business & Workers page.

I have questions about the Safe Start plan, who can I ask?
General questions from employers about the Safe Start plan can be directed to the state’s Business Response Center.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic I have not been able to renew my business or professional license yet. Will I get a late fee when I renew?
The Department of Licensing will waive late fees for business and professional licenses up for renewal between February 1, 2020 and August 31, 2020.

I recently renewed my license and the system charged me a late fee. Is it possible to have the late fee refunded?
Refunds are being issued for any late fees already paid for business and professional licenses up for renewal between February 1, 2020 and August 31, 2020.

How do I figure out if my business is an “essential business” covered by the Governor’s proclamation?
Review detailed guidance about essential and non-essential businesses. If you need further guidance or want to request that your business be included as an essential business, submit an online form to the Governor’s office.

I’m not an essential business, how long do I have to stay closed?
Governor Inslee’s proclamations state that all non-essential businesses in Washington must stop operations from midnight March 23, 2020 until allowed to reopen per the Roadmap to Recovery plan.

What happens if a business violates the Governor’s proclamations?
Agency personnel will contact the business to provide information and guidance about how to comply with the order. Voluntary compliance, motivated by a shared desire to keep one another safe and healthy, is the goal at all times. For businesses that continue to willfully and flagrantly violate the order, stricter enforcement actions will be pursued, in accordance with due process. Ultimately, persons could be subject to criminal penalties per RCW 43.06.220(5).

How do I report a business that is violating the Governor’s Proclamation?
The Governor’s office has an online form for reporting if a non-essential business is open and not complying with the Governor’s orders.

Do I need a pass or some other paperwork to keep operating if I’m performing work that falls under an essential business?

Can I still provide some services from home?
Proclamation 20-25 states 2 things:

  • The closure order does not apply to “businesses consisting exclusively of employees or contractors performing business activities at their home or residence, and who do not engage in in-person contact with clients.”
  • Businesses can conduct work from home with no public interaction to conduct the “minimum activities necessary to maintain the value of the business’ inventory, preserve the condition of the businesses’ physical plant and equipment, ensure security, process payroll and employee benefits, facilitate employees of the business being able continue work remotely for their residences, and related functions.”

What resources are available for me as a business during this crisis?
Resources include grants, loans, and other business assistance. See a list of resources available to businesses during COVID -19.

Do the Governor’s proclamations include businesses on tribal lands?
The Governor’s proclamations are not enforceable on tribal lands. Many federally-recognized tribes support the Governor’s actions and are enforcing on their lands.