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COVID-19 and a New Hire’s Expired Identity Document

10 Aug

HRWatchdog  August 3, 2020

We just hired an employee who doesn’t have a current identity document. Her driver license expired on April 1, and she says that she hasn’t been able to renew it due to COVID-19. Can we hire her?

Yes. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a temporary policy beginning on May 1, 2020, that allows an identity document with an expiration date on or after March 1, 2020, to be accepted for I-9 purposes.

DHS issued this policy due to COVID-19 closure of offices or reduced services that prevented individuals from renewing documents.

Identity documents for I-9 purposes include a driver license, federal- or state-issued identification card with identifying information and a photograph, or a school identification card with a photograph.

If the employee’s identity document expired on or after March 1, 2020, and the document expiration date has been extended by the issuing agency due to COVID-19, then it may be used as a List B document.

Adding Note

The expired document should be entered under Section 2 on the Form I-9 and “COVID-19” should be added to the Additional Information section. Employers also may attach to the Form I-9 a copy of the webpage or other notice indicating that the document has been extended.

The employee has 90 days after the DHS terminates this temporary policy to obtain and present a current document. When the employee obtains a new document, enter the new document’s number and expiration date in the Additional Information field, initial and date the change.

Confirm State Extensions

Employers can confirm that a state has automatically extended the expiration date of its state IDs and driver licenses by checking the state motor vehicle administration websites.

Information on the California Department of Motor Vehicles extension for driver licenses may be found here.

The DHS will continue to monitor the ongoing COVID-19 national emergency and will provide updated guidance as needed. Employers may check for current updates by going to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.

California Businesses Considering Furloughs v. Layoffs Again

Matthew J. Roberts, Esq.  August 4, 2020 Cal Chamber

Nearly five months have passed since California Governor Gavin Newsom issued his initial shelter-in-place order. In March, many California businesses were left facing difficult choices due to potential losses in revenue and uncertainty in the future, and, as a result, began evaluating their options, including furloughs and layoffs.

As California eased into a phased reopening plan, businesses began to reopen and recall their workforces. However, California has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases and paused or even rolled back its reopening. Now, many employers are left with the same question from March: How do we handle our workforce while trying to preserve our business?

A common question the CalChamber Labor Law Helpline continues to receive from our members is whether there’s a difference between furloughing and laying off employees. Essentially, a furloughed employee remains an employee on the books but with reduced or eliminated work hours, while a layoff generally means a complete severance of employment.

An issue in March still exists today — under the current circumstances, the California Labor Commissioner may see no real difference between a temporarily furloughed employee without any work hours and a laid off employee. In a pair of opinion letters, the Labor Commissioner stated that if an employer reduces an employee’s scheduled work hours to zero — and doesn’t reschedule that employee within the same pay period — the employer has effectively laid off the employee which triggers the final pay requirements under Labor Code section 201.

In addition to final pay concerns, if an employer with 75 or more employees ends up “furloughing” or “laying off” 50 or more employees from a single location, it may trigger California Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act (CalWARN) notice requirements. Although the notice requirements generally apply to mass layoffs, in recent years, California courts have held that there’s no minimum length of time for a mass furlough or temporary mass layoff to trigger CalWARN requirements (The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, et al. v. NASSCO Holdings, Inc., 17 Cal.App.5th 1105 (2017)). However, even if a mass furlough or layoff triggers the CalWARN requirements, the traditional notice and timing requirements have been temporarily modified since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Finally, an employer has different responsibilities when recalling or rehiring employers after either a furlough or layoff. If the employee was furloughed with the understanding that the employee remained employed during that time, employers won’t need to initiate the new hire process. But, businesses will need a legitimate business reason for choosing not to recall a furloughed employee. If the employee was laid off with the understanding that the employment relationship ended, the employer will need to go through the new hire process with that employee. Because of the rollercoaster nature of the California’s reopening protocols, it’s important that employers keep in close contact with their legal counsel to make sure they’re appropriately handling their workforce and other employment issues arising from COVID-19.

Labor Commissioner’s Office Files Lawsuits against Uber and Lyft for Engaging in Systemic Wage Theft

Oakland — The Labor Commissioner’s Office has filed separate lawsuits against transportation companies Uber and Lyft for committing wage theft by misclassifying employees as independent contractors. Uber and Lyft have misclassified their drivers, which has deprived these workers of a host of legal protections in violation of California labor law, the lawsuits say.

The goal of the lawsuits is to enforce California labor laws and to ensure that drivers are not misclassified as independent contractors. In 2018, the California Supreme Court’s Dynamex ruling established the “ABC test” for determining whether a worker is an employee under various California labor laws. Assembly Bill 5, which went into effect on January 1, 2020, extended the ABC test to additional California labor laws. Under the ABC test, workers are considered employees unless they are free from control from the hiring entity, perform work outside of the hiring entity’s usual business, and engage in an independently established trade or occupation.

The lawsuits seek to recover amounts owed to all of Uber’s and Lyft’s drivers, including the nearly 5,000 drivers who have filed claims for owed wages with the Labor Commissioner’s Office. Moreover, the lawsuits seek recovery for a wider range of statutory violations and damages than those asserted in individual wage claims and other lawsuits.

“The Uber and Lyft business model rests on the misclassification of drivers as independent contractors,” said California Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower. “This leaves workers without protections such as paid sick leave and reimbursement of drivers’ expenses, as well as overtime and minimum wages.”

The lawsuits allege that by misclassifying workers, Uber and Lyft failed to meet their obligations as employers as required by California labor law—including to pay drivers at least minimum wage for all hours worked, to pay overtime compensation, to provide paid rest periods, to reimburse drivers for the cost of all equipment and supplies needed to perform their work and for work-related personal vehicle mileage. The suits also allege the companies failed to provide paid sick leave, to provide accurate itemized wage deduction statements, to timely pay all wages owed during and upon separation of employment, and to provide notice of employment-related information required by law.

The lawsuits, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, ask the court to order Uber and Lyft to stop misclassifying their employees and provide the protections available to all employees under the Labor Code. The suits also seek the recovery of unpaid wages, penalties and interest as well as civil penalties and any costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees incurred by the Labor Commissioner’s Office.  

The Labor Commissioner’s Office estimates that Uber and Lyft each employ more than 100,000 drivers. Amounts collected by the Labor Commissioner for unpaid wages, liquidated damages owed to workers, penalties owed to workers, and reimbursement of business expenses owed to workers, will be distributed to all drivers who worked for Uber or Lyft during the time period covered by this lawsuit, not just to those drivers who filed individual claims with the Labor Commissioner.

The California Labor Commissioner’s Office combats wage theft and unfair competition by investigating allegations of illegal and unfair business practices. The Labor Commissioner’s Office has launched an interdisciplinary outreach campaign, “Reaching Every Californian.” The campaign amplifies basic protections and builds pathways to impacted populations so that workers and employers understand workplace protections, obligations and how to ensure compliance with these laws.   Employees with work-related questions or complaints may contact DIR’s Call Center in English or Spanish at 844-LABOR-DIR (844-522-6734).

California Releases ‘Employer Playbook for a Safe Reopening

4 Aug

Jessica Mulholland July 27, 2020 Cal Chamber

On July 24, 2020, when the reported number of COVID-19 cases in California surpassed 425,000, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a new playbook — called the “Employer Playbook for a Safe Reopening” — to guide employers on how to provide a safe and clean environment for workers and customers to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

“We want to continue to work in the spirit of collaboration and partnership with our employer community to educate,” Newsom said during the press conference, “not only employers large and small, but to help them educate employees as well.”

The 32-page Employer Playbook for a Safe Reopening includes a compilation of industry-specific guidance, checklists and tools to help employers open safely and mitigate risks associated with COVID-19.  

As previously reported and in accordance with the Governor’s resilience roadmap and industry guidelines, the playbook also specifies that before reopening, all facilities must:

  1. Perform a detailed risk assessment and create a work site-specific COVID-19 prevention plan.
  2. Train workers on how to limit COVID-19’s spread, which includes how to screen themselves for symptoms and when to stay home.
  3. Set up individual control measures and screenings.
  4. Put disinfection protocols in place.
  5. Establish physical distancing guidelines.
  6. Establish universal face covering requirements (with allowed exceptions) in accordance with California Department of Public Health (CDPH) guidelines (for further guidance on enforcing mask requirements, see Appendix A).

The state’s COVID-19 website for industry guidance recommends that businesses review the playbook guidance that’s relevant to their workplace, make a plan and put that plan into action. It also recommends posting your completed checklist “so everyone can know the steps you’ve taken” and to feel free to add more safety measures to the ones listed in the playbook.

Additional guidance released recently includes for services that can be provided outdoors, like hair, nail and massage services, and for outdoor dining, all in counties that have been on the Monitoring List for three consecutive days; and the CDPH issued guidance on the use of face coverings, which requires people to use face coverings when in public or common spaces. 

“Stopping the spread of COVID-19 depends on keeping our workers safe,” Newsom said in a press release. “The vital work they do every day puts them and their families at higher risk for exposure and infection. Taking action to protect them will help protect all Californians.”

Jessica Mulholland, Managing Editor, CalChamber

A Vaccine is Coming: Can Employers Require Employees to Take it?

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

As clinical trials continue across the world for a COVID-19 vaccine, many employers are asking whether they will be able to require employees to take the vaccine when it becomes available in the United States. Like with so many questions surrounding COVID-19, the answer is not entirely clear.  In general, employers can require vaccination as a term and condition of employment, but such practice is not without limitations or always recommended. 

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has taken the position that employers can require employees to take influenza vaccines, for example, but emphasizes that employees “need to be properly informed of the benefits of vaccinations.”  OSHA also explains that “an employee who refuses vaccination because of a reasonable belief that he or she has a medical condition that creates a real danger of serious illness or death (such as a serious reaction to the vaccine) may be protected under Section 11(c) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 pertaining to whistleblower rights.”

In March 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued COVID-19 guidance specifically addressing the issue of whether employers covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) can compel all employees to take the influenza vaccine (noting that there is not yet a COVID-19 vaccine). In responding to this question, the EEOC explained that an employee could be entitled to an exemption from a mandatory vaccination under the ADA based on a disability that prevents the employee from taking the vaccine, which would be a reasonable accommodation that the employer would be required to grant unless it would result in undue hardship to the employer.  Under the ADA, “undue hardship” is defined as “significant difficulty or expense” incurred by the employer in providing an accommodation.   Additionally, Title VII provides that once an employer receives notice that an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance prevents the employee from taking the vaccine, the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless it would pose an undue hardship to the employer as defined by Title VII, a lower standard than under the ADA.  Under Title VII, employers do not need to grant religious accommodation requests that result in more than a de minimis cost to the operation of the employer’s business.  However, analogous state laws may impose stricter standards. 

In light of these exemptions and the risk of discrimination, the EEOC has advised that it is best practice to simply encourage employees to take the influenza vaccine rather than to mandate it.   Although we can presume that the EEOC will issue similar guidance when a COVID-19 vaccine is approved, the threat imposed by COVID-19 to the health and safety of others may make employers more inclined to require vaccination. Moreover, this threat and the necessary safety measures required of employers with unvaccinated employees may render exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine more burdensome.  However, employers must also consider that employees may respond negatively to a vaccination requirement, and adverse reactions to the vaccine could lead to workers’ compensation claims.

Accordingly, employers contemplating any policy mandating a COVID-19 vaccine should be prepared to carefully consider the threat posed to the health and safety of their employees, the risk of future claims, and employee morale.  Moreover, employers must be prepared to carefully consider the reasons for any employee requests for exemptions.

© Polsinelli PC, Polsinelli LLP in California

All Signs Lead to Cal/OSHA Issuing COVID-19 Citations In the (Very) Near Future

Jul 29, 2020  By: Thomas B. Song

Governor Newsom’s televised news briefing on July 24, 2020, provided clues that enhanced enforcement of COVID-19 workplace safety is in the works.  Likely, in response to criticism of the perceived ineffective response to worker protection during COVID-19, labeling Cal/OSHA as a “remote” investigatory agency, staying at home while other workers risk health and safety on a daily basis.

Newsom announced that the spread of COVID-19 disproportionately affected the essential workforce – construction, truck drivers, healthcare and first responders, cashiers, grocery workers, agriculture and farm workers, etc. – and that plans were underway for “targeted” and “strategic enforcement of labor laws”, no doubt from Cal/OSHA. 

The Governor also mentioned the need to call out “bad actors” that give other companies in the industries a bad name.  He also indicated a need to “waive” or modify some timelines associated with regulatory enforcement, noting that it can take over six months to “move an enforcement action.”  While he did not mention a particular enforcement mechanism or jurisdiction, six months is the same amount of time that it takes for an expedited appeal to make its way through the Cal/OSHA Appeals Board process, including the time to issue a decision following an expedited hearing.  Coincidence?  Most likely not.

Cal/OSHA’s July 16th press release urged “all employers in California to carefully review and follow the state’s COVID-19 workplace safety and health guidance to ensure their workers are protected from the virus.”  The new Cal/OSHA Chief, Doug Parker, reinforced that “[e]xisting regulations require employers to implement effective measures to protect employees from worksite hazards, including recognized health hazards such as COVID-19,” and reminded employers that, “[w]e’ve designed guidance documents for more than 30 industries so employers have a roadmap.”

Although not specifically mentioned by the Chief, “existing regulations” is an obvious inference to the Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) regulation, which (as we’ve already discussed in prior blog articles) requires all employers in California to have effective measures in place to address known hazards in the workplace, including the threat of COVID-19.  (For more information on the IIPP, see CDF’s past articles from earlier this summer [here] and [here].)

Also, unlike the onerous Federal OSHA “General Duty Clause” – which requires a hazard to be “likely to cause serious injury or death” – no such standard is required under California’s IIPP mandate.  An IIPP violation is often a “General-classification,” which only requires a “relationship to occupational safety and health of employees.”  Needless to say, that with all the industry guidance put out by Cal/OSHA, Cal/OSHA will have a strong case against employers that do not incorporate the listed precautions into their IIPPs, or otherwise do not take the COVID-19 guidance seriously. All the signs point to stricter enforcement of COVID-19 workplace safety laws in the very near future, and most likely in the form of Cal/OSHA citations targeted against some of the “bad actors” mentioned by the governor.  California employers, whether essential businesses or not, should take heed of the guidance, incorporate appropriate COVID-19 workplace protections into their IIPPs and train their workforce on protection against COVID-19 as soon as possible.

What Businesses Can Do to Ease the Transition When Reopening Their Doors

28 Jul

As governments start easing stay-at-home orders and other restrictions, businesses that closed their doors to help contain the COVID-19 spread will be permitted to reopen, some sooner than others and most on a gradual basis. Often broad and sometimes inconsistent guidance from federal, state and local governments creates confusion as to when, and to what extent, different businesses can reopen. Even for those that can fully reopen, the staggered and phased reopening of other companies further blurs business outlooks and prospects. It is clear, however, that each business must create new workplace measures and policies to safely and effectively reopen.

The pandemic has impacted nearly all businesses, especially those forced to reduce operations or close completely. Most have never faced situations like those precipitated by COVID-19, and thus, will be navigating unchartered waters both from a business and employer perspective. The ultimate best course of action will differ from business to business. This article highlights some of the key considerations to reopening from a business and employer perspective.

1. Providing a Safe and Healthful Workplace: The Occupational Safety and Health Act (the Act) requires that all employees be given a workplace “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to” employees. The scope of this duty takes on a new meaning in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has made clear that the Act and OSHA requirements and standards apply to prevent an employee’s exposure to COVID-19 at work. Both OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued guidance on steps employers can take to reduce an employee’s risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. In addition to guidance issued by these agencies, employers should also consider guidance issued by other federal agencies, as well as state and local entities.

The nature of the recommended steps varies based on the risk of exposure associated with the job at issue, with the most stringent recommendations applying to those jobs classified as very high risk, such as certain health care and morgue jobs. Employers should consider the following actions to ensure the safety and well-being of workers:

  • Determine appropriate Personal Protective Equipment for workers, such as face masks, face shields, gloves, gowns and goggles.
  • Enhance cleaning and sanitization procedures for the workplace. Employers should note not only the thoroughness of cleaning but the frequency, with some workplaces requiring cleaning multiple times a day.
  • Maintain social distancing in the workplace, which may involve reconfiguring offices, conference rooms, cafeterias and other common areas; implementing staggered shifts; restricting in-person meetings with clients and customers; and limiting access to the workplace to only those cleared in advance and by appointment.
  • Encourage good personal hygiene in the workplace, which may include making tissues, antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer readily available; promoting frequent hand washing; displaying posters in the workplace to prompt employees to practice good hygiene; reminding employees not to touch their mouth, nose or eyes with unclean hands; and instructing employees to cough or sneeze into a tissue or flexed elbow.
  • Establish a policy setting forth standards to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in the workplace, like COVID-19. This policy may include guidelines for reporting symptoms, diagnosis or exposure to a communicable disease and responses to such reports, such as requiring the affected employee(s) to be sent home or remain at home, contact tracing and isolating affected employees.

COVID-19 is an ever-changing situation, resulting in frequent modifications to applicable guidelines. As a result, employers should regularly monitor guidance issued by federal, state and local entities to remain abreast of current recommendations and best practices.

2. Screening Employees for COVID-19: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) guidance related to the COVID-19 pandemic indicates that employers may screen employees entering the workplace to determine if they may have COVID-19 without running afoul of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Currently, such screening may include standard questions about symptoms and travel history, measuring body temperature and administering a COVID-19 test before letting an employee enter the workplace. The EEOC emphasizes that the COVID-19 test must be accurate and reliable. All information obtained from the screening must be kept confidential and stored separately from an employee’s personnel file. Some businesses may also consider screening others who enter the workplace, including vendors, customers and other visitors.

3. Transitioning from Home to Office: Businesses starting to reopen will also face the transition of some or all employees from home back to the office. Given the nature of the pandemic, it is unlikely that requiring all employees to return to the office once doors reopen will be workable for logistical and health reasons. Instead, in developing a home-to-office plan, many factors should be considered, including:

  • Whether employees should have the option to continue working from home for some time after reopening
  • Whether certain jobs and employees are more critical to a business’s operations and require a physical presence in the office sooner than other jobs and employees
  • Whether employees who are adequately fulfilling the job requirements from home should continue to work from home for some time after reopening
  • Whether employees who have high-risk conditions or share a household with someone who has a high-risk condition should have the option to continue working from home for some time after reopening
  • Whether employees without childcare should be allowed to continue to work from home or work an alternative schedule at the office until daycares reopen and summer camps become available
  • Whether only a portion of employees should initially return to the office to test new processes, including screening measures and other safety procedures and protocols, and to maintain social distancing
  •  Whether transitioning should take place in shifts, whether on a daily, weekly or another basis

4. Recalling Laid-Off or Furloughed Employees: Employers that furloughed or laid off employees due to COVID-19 may begin to recall them as businesses can reopen and restrictions are lifted. Employers are not required to rehire laid-off employees and may, instead, hire new employees. However, many employers may also choose to rehire their laid-off employees. In addition to changes precipitated by the lifting of restrictions, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which is described below, has also prompted some businesses to recall previously laid-off and furloughed employees. Employers should consider having a written plan to govern the recalling of these employees to mitigate against claims of unlawful discrimination. This plan should be based, to the extent possible, on objective factors, such as jobs needed, years of service, work location and documented performance reviews.

5. Getting Your House in Order: A gradual or staged reopening of markets, businesses and industries means vendors, customers and clients may not be fully operational upon reopening. Take this opportunity to clean up your books and tackle previously neglected administrative tasks. Consider re-organizing or streamlining back-office functions. Doing so will position your company for success once your business ramps up to pre-pandemic levels.

6. Marketing: Your clients, customers and relationships need to know that you are preparing to reopen. Use advertising and social media platforms to inform the public that you are taking the proper precautions and ready to get back to work. Effective and optimistic communication can also reinvigorate your employees and position them for success upon returning to a “normal” work environment.

7. Maintaining Business Contacts: Most businesses are already in contact with their lenders and landlords. Each situation is unique and dependent on your lenders’ and landlords’ willingness to share your cash flow burdens. Still, businesses should request and consider taking advantage of all available relief and extensions on loan payments and rent reduction, deferral or abatement. Be mindful of the unintended tax consequences that could flow from significant loan and lease modifications and consult with your legal and tax advisors during this process.

Identify your most critical vendors, contact them early and keep open lines of communication regarding your ability to pay. Consider requesting discounts or extended payment plans where appropriate and available. Many vendors will have the same cash flow concerns and may be willing to liquidate their accounts receivable at a discount.

8. Conserving Cash: If your business has maintained healthy cash reserves, great! But avoid, where possible, dipping into or exhausting those reserves too soon. The road back to pre-pandemic levels is uncertain and may be prolonged. Instead, take advantage of available loans and grants. Consider liquidating accounts receivable by offering a discount or installment plan to customers and clients who may want to accelerate payment. Focus on utilizing available cash to maintain your workforce, keep your loans and leases in good standing, and preserve relationships with your most critical vendors.

9. Taking Advantage of Available Capital: The highly publicized PPP loan program administered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and Small Business Administration (SBA) is providing, through banks, low-interest and potentially forgivable loan funds to qualifying businesses. The initial $349 billion of PPP funds was exhausted within 13 days. While Congress authorized an additional $310 billion in PPP funds on April 24, many expect this will soon run out as well. If you can obtain a PPP loan, use these funds for payroll expenses and other designated purposes. Be sure to document those expenses and payments during the measurement period.

If you are ineligible or missed out on PPP, other government-backed loans and grants may be available. Loans and grants are being made available under SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program for certain businesses affected by COVID-19. The Treasury and Federal Reserve are also administering the Main Street Lending Program, providing $600 billion in loan funds to qualifying businesses. Many state governments are also providing financial assistance. The Louisiana Loan Portfolio Guaranty Program, for instance, is making low-interest loans of up to $100,000 to help eligible businesses recover from the pandemic. Consider taking advantage of these opportunities and consult with your banker and lawyer to help guide you through the process and advise you on any pitfalls.

COVID-19: Enforcing Mask Rules at Work

By CalChamber  July 13, 2020

Ask Why

While wearing a mask in the workplace is not law, it is recommended by local and state authorities, such as the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), that employees wear masks at work and maintain a distance of six feet from one another. This guidance not only protects customers from the spread of COVID-19, but also helps keep employees healthy and safe in the workplace.

The guidance and orders issued by the CDPH and other government agencies, Shaw tells listeners, is the appropriate reasoning an employer needs to establish a mask and social distancing policy at work.

But what if, Frank asks, an employee is found not wearing a mask?

Shaw says that enforcing mask rules is not about getting people in trouble. As with any other violation, an employer should seek out why the worker is not wearing a mask. Is the reason due to a medical condition or is it a political statement?

If the employee chooses not to wear a mask because of a political stance, Shaw recommends that the employer state that the employee is expected to comply with all of the company’s rules and regulations, and that violations are subject to discipline.

“…Employees have to know [that] even though we are getting some mixed messages in the media and there are some political issues out there, when it comes to your workplace, you have to follow the rules that the employer has set for you as long as those are appropriate rules,” Shaw says.

Moreover, she continues, the employer should communicate that the rules put into place are to keep all employees safe.

Medical Accommodations

If an employee is not wearing a mask because they have a medical condition, the employer should treat it like any other medical accommodation request, but should keep in mind that this situation, is slightly different due to the direct threat to everyone’s health and safety, Shaw explains.

“Just because somebody has a medical condition that precludes them from being able to wear a mask doesn’t mean they get to expose…people to the virus,” she says.

Should a worker have a medical condition that precludes wearing a mask, employers should find ways to maintain safety, such as allowing the employee to telework or finding other ways to get the employee into the workplace, Shaw says.

Shaw compares the situation to having a service animal. Employees with service animals still have to abide by certain rules. For example, a service dog has to behave and cannot relieve itself at work. Similarly, she says, even though an individual has the right to an accommodation, there are going to be limitations on that, especially given the direct threat that not wearing a mask presents.

Set Reminders

Sometimes, the reason an employee is not wearing a mask is simply because they forgot. At work, people are rushing to finish projects, or have to get up to retrieve a document from the printer, or perhaps are hurrying to attend a customer, Shaw says.

Employers need to have grace, she says, and realize that “people are going to make mistakes occasionally.”

Still, it is critical that employers enforce the rules, and they should be transparent about all of the company’s expectations, Shaw says.

Employers should also find ways to remind employees of the mask and social distancing requirements. Employers can buy posters and decals to space out six-foot distances or use masking tape to establish an employee’s work zone.

Inappropriate Graphics

Now that face masks are more widely available, Frank points out that masks have become the new fashion accessory, and masks might contain logos, designs and messages. Can an employer prohibit masks with certain words, imagery or decals?

Similar to a dress code policy, employers can prohibit masks that contain expletives, inappropriate graphics, or messaging that violates the company’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) policy, Shaw explains.

Although an employer can prohibit masks with messaging altogether, if an employer asks that employees wear only a certain color of mask so that it matches their company’s shirt, then the mask becomes a “uniform” requirement, and the employer will have to provide the mask, Shaw explains.

“So don’t get too specific about the color or the style or the design,” she says. “But you are allowed to say…nothing with a printed message, nothing with an inappropriate graphic or logo or screen print on it.”

In other words, Frank says, it’s back to the basics, “taking COVID out and going back to the basics of what would you do in this circumstance to try to solve the puzzle.”

Shaw recommends employers exercise common sense and remember “our point is workplace safety; we’re trying to keep people safe and healthy.” If employers think about that as being the goal, it helps with what steps they actually take.

Recording, Reporting Work-Related COVID-19 Cases

James W. Ward  July 24, 2020 Cal Chamber

As COVID-19 cases increase in California, more employers are receiving notice of employees testing positive for the virus — but they may not be sure of when to record and report the cases given the amount of guidance issued by numerous agencies and public health officials at every level of government. This brief summary of employers’ obligations when an employee tests positive for COVID-19 should help.

When an employee tests positive for COVID-19, the first thing employers must do is send the employee home and follow the company’s COVID-19 workplace exposure/outbreak plan and applicable health mandates with respect to finding exposed close contacts, notifying and quarantining exposed employees, cleaning protocols, etc. Privacy laws restrict you from disclosing names of COVID-19 positive employees when notifying close contacts of potential exposure; employers must maintain confidentiality. A detailed California Department of Public Health (CDPH) memo guides employers through workplace outbreaks, including quarantine timelines, testing issues, CDC guidance and other topics.

Once that’s handled, the CDPH states that employers should contact their local health department to report confirmed COVID-19 cases in the workplace. The local health department may have specific reporting criteria and requirements. Additionally, if the COVID-19 positive employee lives in a different county/jurisdiction from the workplace, the employer should contact that jurisdiction’s health department.

Employers also must comply with certain recording and reporting requirements of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA.

Cal/OSHA requires employers to record work-related illnesses on their Log 300 when one of the following things happen:

  • Death.
  • Days away from work.
  • Restricted work or transfer to another job.
  • Medical treatment beyond first aid.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • A significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional.

COVID-19 cases could check several items on this list, so employers will likely have to record COVID-19 illnesses on their Log 300.

In its FAQ on the topic, Cal/OSHA states that COVID-19 cases should generally be lab confirmed, but confirmation is not necessary to trigger recording requirements. Due to testing shortages and other circumstances, there may be situations in which an employer must make a recordability determination even though testing did not occur. If the circumstances meet any of the criteria listed above, the case should be recorded. Cal/OSHA says employers should err on the side of recordability, but clarified that “days spent away from work” do not include days spent quarantined.

For recording purposes, an illness is presumed work-related if it results from events or exposure in the work environment, such as interaction with COVID-19 positive individuals, working in the same area or sharing items with COVID-19 positive individuals. Employers should evaluate the employee’s duties, environment and interactions to determine the likelihood the employee was exposed at work.

In some cases, employers may have to report COVID-19 cases directly to Cal/OSHA. Employers must report a serious illness to Cal/OSHA when it is contracted “in connection with any employment” and results in death or hospitalization other than observation or diagnostic testing. So, if an employee becomes ill at work and is admitted to the hospital, the employer must report it to Cal/OSHA immediately, but no later than eight hours after the employer knows about it.

Cal/OSHA guidance states that employers must report the serious illness regardless of whether it’s work-related. Also, employers should report serious illnesses if an employee becomes symptomatic outside of work, as long as there is some cause to believe the illness was contracted in connection with any employment, including, for example, other COVID-19 cases in the workplace, exposure to COVID-19 positive individuals, contact with the public, etc.

Employers may report a serious illness to Cal/OSHA via phone or email.