Pamela Tahim Thakur
Stage 3 Reopening Guidance for California Employers
On May 8, 2020, California Governor Newsom unveiled the four-stage "Resilience Roadmap" for the gradual reopening of businesses and public spaces. As counties enter Stage 3 of the Resilience Roadmap, which phases in high-risk workplaces, as defined below, the COVID-19 pandemic raises new challenges for employers and their employees.
The following are some common challenges that businesses may face under Stage 3 Guidance from California. As your specific outcome may vary depending on your situation, we encourage you to contact one of the experience attorneys at the Thakur Law Firm, APC for specific solutions to COVID-19 and reopening-related issues.
Establishing a Worksite Specific Plan
California guidance requires workplaces to establish written, worksite-specific COVID-19 prevention plan at every office location, perform a comprehensive risk assessment of all work areas, and designate a person at each office to implement the plan. This workplace infection prevention coordinator should also be responsible for communicating with employees and managing COVID-related issues, including personal exemptions and identifying COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) industry guidance office requires employers to educate their employees on how to limit the spread of COVID-19. Training topics should include self-screening at home, the importance of hand washing and physical distancing, and the proper use of face coverings. Employers should also inform their employees about the employer or government-sponsored leave benefits available, including sick leave rights under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, workers' compensation benefits, and the presumption of the work- relatedness of COVID-19 pursuant to the Governor's Executive Order N-62-20.
Employee Health Screenings
Under the California guidance, businesses must either provide temperature and/or symptoms screening for all employees at the beginning of their shift or require that their employees self-screen before arriving at work. Employers choosing the latter option should ensure that the screening was performed in the home and was conducted pursuant to the CDC guidelines. Any contractors, vendors, or other individuals entering the workplace should also be temperature screened.
June 18, 2020, CDPH guidance mandated the use of cloth face coverings in “high-risk” situations. Such situations include: when inside any public space, when working in any space visited by the public, or while in any enclosed area with other people where maintaining appropriate physical distancing is not possible. CDPH has defined "high-risk" broadly enough to encompass the majority of workspaces, so employers should ensure that these guidelines are followed in all areas, including office hallways, stairwells, common areas, parking facilities, and elevators. We recommend that employers provide face coverings for their employees.
Cleaning and Disinfecting Protocols
Under the California guidance, employers are expected to perform thorough cleaning on high traffic areas and frequently to disinfect commonly used surfaces, including doorknobs, toilets, and hand washing facilities. Employers must avoid the sharing of office equipment whenever possible and should disinfect between uses. Employers must also consider how to acquire and maintain adequate cleaning supplies and how to coordinate cleaning throughout the day in accordance with CDC guidance.
Physical Distancing Guidelines
California guidance requires employers to implement measures to ensure six-foot physical distancing. Employers should consider whether to erect physical partitions, redesign office spaces, or create floor markings or other visual cues. Meetings may need to take place virtually or in larger conference rooms to maintain safe distancing. Employers should also decide whether to implement modified work schedules, such as staggered start and end times or alternating days onsite.
Reporting Coronavirus to Appropriate Government Authorities
California guidance requires employers to have a process in place to notify their local health department of a known or suspected COVID-19 outbreak or a confirmed laboratory case in the workplace. The process should comply with the specific instructions of the local health department in the jurisdiction where the workplace is located. The local health department where the COVID-19 positive employee resides should also be notified. Hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 should be reported to Cal/OSHA, even if work relatedness is uncertain.
The California guidance represents minimum expectations for businesses operating in Stage 3, and counties may pose additional, more stringent requirements on employers. Employers should evaluate whether employees an effectively continue to work remotely, and should allow them to do so where appropriate. It remains to be seen how the guidelines will be enforced and whether the operational costs of implementing the guidelines will be worth the benefits of bringing employees back to the office in all circumstances.
The attorneys at Thakur Law Firm, APC will continue to monitor COVID-19-related developments in the law, affecting California employers. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact Thakur Law Firm to speak to an experienced attorney who can help you address any workplace issues and develop practical short-term and long-term solutions.