The Washington Collection Agency Board (CAB) has extended the state’s emergency temporary work-from-home rule—enacted in June in response to COVID-19—for employees of licensed collection agencies for an additional 120 days. The extension, until Feb. 17, 2021, is part of the process to enact a permanent rule, which could greatly expand options for the accounts receivable management (ARM) industry and set a precedent for other states to follow suit.
As required by the original rule enacted in June, the CAB is working on a permanent work-from-home rule and has formed a rule-writing committee, which continues to meet and draft language for a proposed rule.
This temporary rule is intended to allow employees of collection agencies to work remotely, but it does not alter any requirements of the Washington Collection Agency Act (WAC) regarding collection activity, according to the CAB rule approved in June.
While the temporary rule is in place, licensed agencies with employees working remotely should continue to conduct business in a manner consistent with collection agency laws and rules and protect data, it states.
For example, if a collection agency allows remote working, a record of which employees have been assigned to remote work must be maintained and kept current. Collection agencies and their employees must have a written IT security policy that outlines the security protocols in place safeguarding the company and customer data, information, and electronic and physical records, to protect them against unauthorized or accidental access, use, modification, duplication, destruction or disclosure. Physical records must be stored and maintained at the business location and may not be stored at the remote working location.
Additional new requirements in the temporary rule are outlined in the June CAB meeting materials.
The temporary rule adopted by the CAB removes work-at-home agents from the definition of branch office. Updates to WAC 308-29-010 (underlined text is a change to the rule) include:
“Remote work” is the practice of working from home or other alternative location through the use of technology, which allows the employee to access normal work material (email, telephone, electronic documents, etc.) Remote work may be scheduled or on an ad hoc basis.
“Branch office” is any location physically separated from the principal place of business of a licensee where the licensee conducts any activity meeting the criteria of a collection agency or out-of-state collection agency as defined in RCW 19.16.100.
An employee of a licensee shall not be deemed a “collection agency” or a “branch office” as defined in chapter 19.16.100(5)(a) RCW and the employee need not have a license to perform collection activities on behalf of the collection agency, whether working in the collection agency office or working remotely.
Minnesota, New Mexico, Illinois, Nevada and several other states issued varying levels of guidance on remote work arrangements for licensed collection agencies included in the CAB’s meeting materials.
The Washington Collectors Association has focused its advocacy efforts on this issue and has member representatives on the CAB. ACA International’s advocacy team, including Vice President of State Government and Unit Affairs Andrew Madden, is also working with the CAB on behalf of members and ACA will continue to provide updates on the permanent rulemaking process.