On July 24, 2020, the California Department of Public Health issued its COVID-19 Employer Playbook, providing clear practical guidance on some of the most common issues faced by employers reopening their businesses in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The Playbook features helpful Safe Reopening FAQs for Workers and Employers, as well as details regarding mandatory and recommended steps that employers should take when reopening their businesses to support a safe, clean environment for workers and customers.
The four main areas covered by the Playbook are (1) how to open safely, (2) what to do if there is a case of COVID-19 in the workplace, (3) enforcement and compliance, and (4) worker education. We have prepared the following summary of the key takeaways from the Departments most recent guidance:
What to do if there is a case of COVID-19 in the workplace?
If an employee tests positive for COVID-19 or has symptoms, they should be separated from other workers and sent home immediately. Employers can work with the local health department (LHD) to comply with guidance regarding isolation or quarantine, possible testing, and return-to-work protocols for affected employees.
The Playbook directs employers to instruct symptomatic workers, those awaiting test results, and anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, to stay home. Employers should notify the LHD when there is a known or suspected case of COVID-19 in the workplace.
After a positive case of COVID-19 has been identified, employers should speak with close contacts of the individual and utilize alternative methods for identifying exposed workers, such as checking employment records to verify shifts worked during the infectious period to identify workers who may have worked with the individual diagnosed with COVID-19.
How must employers protect employees’ confidentiality?
While an employer has a duty to inform all close contacts at a worksite that they may have been exposed to a COVID-19-positive co-worker, employers may not reveal the identity of the infected individual. Employers should be careful to avoid making any communications about an employee's health status, which may constitute an unlawful disclosure of health information.
When can an employee exposed to COVID-19 return to work?
Employers should consult the CDC website and the LHD to determine when an employee who is confirmed to have COVID-19 is cleared to return to work, as the criteria differs for symptomatic and asymptomatic workers. Symptomatic positive workers with laboratory confirmed COVID-19 may return to work only after at least one (1) day (24 hours) has passed since his or her last fever and has had improvement in symptoms and at least ten (10) days have passed since symptoms first appeared. Asymptomatic positive workers with laboratory confirmed COVID-19 may return to work only after a minimum of ten (10) days have passed since his or her test. Symptomatic negative workers should use the same criteria for return to work as laboratory confirmed cases. Asymptomatic negative workers who never had symptoms but were tested due to close contact and were negative should quarantine at home for fourteen (14) days after the last known contact with the case patient.
How should employer enforce mask requirements?
The Playbook recommends that employers train workers on how to handle situations where coworkers or customers are not wearing face coverings. Workers should maintain a six-foot distance and avoid individuals who are not wearing face coverings and raise the concern with their supervisor. Employers are recommended to train employees on how to safely handle situations where a member of the public or another worker refuses to wear a face covering to avoid a violent confrontation.
Must employers keep records of COVID-19 cases?
California employers must record illnesses that are work-related and result in either death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, loss of consciousness, or a significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional. If a worker contracts COVID-19 at work and meets the criteria above, covered employers in California must record the case in their Cal/OSHA Log 300.
Are employers required to report cases of COVID-19?
All employers are required to report cases of COVID-19 to the LHD in the county where the COVID-19 positive employee resides and the county in which the employer is located. If a case meets the definition of a serious illness under CA Labor Code and Title 8 CA Code of Regulations, the employer must also report the case to Cal/OSHA.
What are employees’ rights to job-protected leave and paid sick leave?
Employees may have job-protected leave under the California Family Rights Act and may also be entitled to paid sick leave under federal, state, or local law. Employees who may not be eligible for paid sick leave benefits may be eligible for state disability insurance. Also, employees who contracted COVID-19 at work may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits.
The Playbook is available online at http://cdph.ca.gov and it offers practical, easy-to-understand guidance for employers on maintaining a safe work environment and reopening their businesses in compliance California regulations relating to COVID-19. However, we strongly recommend that you contact one of the experienced attorneys at the Thakur Law Firm, APC for assistance in developing effective long-term and short-term solutions for COVID-19-related and any other employment issues.