While everybody wants to stay safe during this pandemic, the flurry of new laws and guidelines that have been implemented across California can make the responsibilities of employers somewhat confusing. However, while these rules may be unclear, it is important to have at the very least a basic understanding of them in order to keep employees safe and shield yourself from liability. Thus, here is some information regarding the rights and responsibilities of employers in the workplace during COVID-19.
Can my business open?
On August 28th, 2020, California released a “Blueprint for a Safer Economy”, which is a tiered system of restrictions by COVID-19 threat levels that businesses must adhere to. In it, it contains the new rules per county regarding which businesses can or cannot operate. These restrictions are for the most part the same as the previous ones enforced by the state on July 13th, with the exception of salons and barbershops being able to operate indoors, shopping malls and retail businesses having to limit their capacity to 25%, and grocery stores having to limit their capacity to 50%. More specific restrictions can be found on the state’s chart of Blueprint Activities and Business Tiers.
Can I require my employees to come in?
Currently, if an employee is able to perform their primary job duties from home, they must do so. However, an employee can be required to work onsite if:
1. They cannot perform their job duties from home
2. They must work onsite in order to carry out an essential business function
3. They are needed to maintain the minimum basic operations described in the Order for parts of the business that legally cannot fully resume operations
What safety guidelines am I obligated to follow?
Irrespective of industry, all businesses are obligated to follow certain safety guidelines.
These include providing facemasks (or reimbursing workers for the reasonable cost of obtaining them), maintaining a safe six feet distance from others, and providing sanitizing supplies to employees and customers.
In terms of specific industry guidelines, those can be found on the state’s website for “Industry Guidance to Reduce Risk”.
What do I need to do if an employee has been exposed to COVID-19?
Upon discovering that an employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19, an employer must:
1. Make sure the employee is sent home
2. Cooperate with the local health department and employee regarding quarantine, testing, and the eventual return of the employee to work
Furthermore, the state has put together an employee playbook that goes more in detail on important details such as reporting positive cases to Cal/OSHA, worker’s compensation, and paid sick leave.
What programs or resources are available to help businesses during this time?
Regarding federal programs, additional funds are available for businesses through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). The SBA is still continuing to review applications for this loan on a first-come, first-served basis, but funding is limited.
In addition, under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), small businesses with under 500 employees could be eligible to receive tax credits for wages paid for leave between April 1, 2020 and the end of the year. More information on this can be found on the Department of Labor’s Page regarding paid leave under the FFCRA.
As for state-wide resources, the Unemployment Insurance Work Sharing Program can give employees whose hours and wages have been reduced unemployment benefits while allowing them to keep their current job. Requirements and further details can be found on the EDD website for the program.
More resources and programs can be found on the state website for businesses.
While this blog post provides general information that might be useful, the best way to receive tailored legal advice is to contact an attorney. To schedule a meeting with one, please contact us at (408) 599-3191 for a confidential case evaluation.