Tag Archives: Employment Law

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.

LA County Changes COVID-19 Guidance

7 Jul

Corona

July 1, 2020 – Jackson Lewis LLP.

NEW- requirement to report if 3 or more employees in a workplace are identified with COVID-19

Los Angeles County has been the epicenter of COVID-19 in California, and it is only getting worse. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LA Department of Public Health) recently announced that daily hospitalizations have been significantly higher than in past weeks. Accordingly, LA County released new and updated guidance to help stop the spread of COVID-19 within the workplace. The guidance includes more stringent employee screenings, requirements to report a cluster of confirmed COVID-19 cases, updates to LA County Reopening Protocols, and requirements that all employees who have regular contact with others wear a face covering or an alternative, regardless of medical conditions.

More Stringent Employee Screenings

LA Department of Public Health has released an Employee Screening form. The form requires employees who have experienced COVID-19 symptoms (defined as fever, chills, cough, shortnerss of breath, or difficulty breathing) within the past 10 days to be sent home immediately. The form otherwise follows CDC guidance in that employees should also be sent home immediately if they: (1) have an elevated body temperature greater than or equal to 100.4ºF or 38ºC or (2) have had any contact with a person with COVID-19 in the previous 14 days.

Employers Required to Report Clusters of Confirmed Cases

LA Department of Public Health has also updated the Protocol for Social Distancing. In the event that three or more COVID-19 cases are identified within the workplace within a span of 14 days, the employer should report the cluster to the LA Department of Public Health at (888) 397-3993 or (213) 240-7821. A case manager will then be assigned to guide the facility response and provide technical support, implement infection control guidances, and provide site-specific control measures. LA Department of Public Health has released a poster containing this information.

LA County Protocols Updated

LA County Reopening Protocols have also been updated to reflect the changes in the Protocol for Social Distancing. For example, the Office Workspaces guidance addresses the more stringent health screenings, the reporting of clusters of COVID-19 cases and information of face coverings, including that employees be instructed to wash their face coverings daily.

Please keep in mind that the changes in LA County protocols directly impact businesses located in the City of Los Angeles as Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Safer L.A.” Emergency Order relies upon LA County protocols. Thus, it is very important that businesses located in LA County and the City of Los Angeles continue to monitor LA County Reopening Protocols as they are continuously updated. For example, cardrooms, satellite wagering facilities, and racetracks with onsite wagering are prohibited from allowing the consumption of food and/or beverages at gaming tables, and beaches are closed from July 3 – July 6, 2020.

Face Coverings and Medical Conditions

LA Department of Public Health also has released guidance for individuals with medical conditions who are unable to wear a face covering. In the Guidance for Cloth Face Covering, it was explained that “[i]ndividuals who are exempt from wearing a face covering due to a medical condition and who are employed in a job involving regular contact with others must wear an alternative such as a face shield with a drape on the bottom edge.”

What Employers Should Know Now

Many California localities have released guidance and provisions with the intention to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Currently, the risk of spreading the disease is exemplified in Los Angeles County and more stringent standards have been put into place.

California’s Face Mask Requirements Can Help Keep Businesses Open

Face Mask Required

Katie Culliton  June 30, 2020

It’s been almost two weeks since the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) required Californians to wear a cloth face mask when outside the home, with limited exceptions. As cases of COVID-19 rise, it’s becoming increasingly more important to wear a mask to slow the disease’s spread — and ultimately, the face mask requirement helps businesses to stay open during these uncertain times.

In response to California seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases in some counties, the CDPH required seven counties to close their bars immediately and recommended eight other counties do the same. Bars were targeted specifically because these environments lead to reduced compliance of personal protective measures, including use of face coverings, and they require raised voices, which leads to greater projection of potentially infected droplets.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds us that cloth face coverings help protect people around you and most likely reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used in public settings. Requiring employees and customers wear face coverings helps prevent the spread of COVID-19, which in turn keeps businesses open.

Remember, California’s June 18 Guidance for the Use of Face Coverings included that Californians must wear a face covering when engaged in work, whether at the workplace or performing work off-site, when:

  • Interacting in-person with any member of the public;
  • Working in any space visited by members of the public, regardless of whether anyone from the public is present at the time;
  • Working in any space where food is prepared or packaged for sale or distribution to others;
  • Working in or walking through common areas, such as hallways, stairways, elevators, and parking facilities; and
  • In any room or enclosed area where other people (except for members of the person’s own household or residence) are present when unable to physically distance.

Individuals are exempt from these guidelines in limited circumstances. California also has industry-specific guidance on reducing the risk of COVID-19, which includes childcare, day camps, delivery services, office workspaces and real estate transactions.

Keep an eye out for updated requirements as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves.

Additional $600 Unemployment Payment Expiration Date Looms Near

Covid 19 Unemployment

By John J. Porta, Hadley M. Simonett, Keerthi Sugumaran and Carolyn A. Trotta

  • June 26, 2020 -Jackson Lewis, PC.

As businesses begin to reopen and many workers return to work, one of the main provisions of the CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020, is set to expire next month. Section 2104 of the CARES Act created the federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, which provides all individuals who receive state unemployment benefits an additional $600 per week for up to four months funded by the federal government. Created as a short-term benefit, the additional $600 FPUC benefit will expire “on or before July 31, 2020.”

The exact expiration date depends on how the state defines the unemployment benefit week. The majority of states follow a Saturday-to-Saturday or Sunday-to-Sunday benefit week for purposes of unemployment compensation. For states whose benefit week ends on a Saturday, the final week FPUC is payable is the week ending July 25, 2020. For states whose benefit week ends on a Sunday, the final payable week is the week ending July 26, 2020.

While the House of Representatives passed an extension of the FPUC benefit in the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, the bill has faced strong opposition in the Senate.

Although the FPUC benefit expires next month, the expanded benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program are in effect until December 31, 2020. The PUA provides workers who are ineligible for regular state benefits (such as independent contractors) unemployment benefits funded by the federal government. For more information on the PUA program and other benefits under the CARES Act, see our article, President Trump Signs Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES).

California Law Requires Face Masks

22 Jun

Wear Mask

CalWorkSafety clients are currently reporting new instances every day that their employees are testing positive for COVID-19.  It is now critical to enforce face coverings at work, and to encourage those who have been in contact with someone who tests positive, to get tested themselves.  Free testing is now available at many CVS locations in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and Inland Empire counties.

California Governor, Gavin Newsom, has ordered Californians to wear face coverings in most indoor settings, including offices and many outdoor venues.

New guidance from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) outlines when masks or cloth face coverings are required, to assist in limiting the spread of Covid-19 that is now continuing to increase currently in California.

As reported instances of Covid-19 are currently on the rise, the most important step to take is to have the cooperation and compliance of all persons to limit the spread by wearing face coverings.  Unless staying at home or maintaining at least a distance of six feet away from others at ALL times, face coverings are required to protect everyone’s health.

CDPH guidance holds that people in California must wear face coverings when they are in the high-risk situations listed below:

  • Inside, or in line to enter, any indoor public space
  • Obtaining services from the healthcare sector in settings including, but not limited to, a hospital, pharmacy, medical clinic, laboratory, physician or dental office, veterinary clinic, or blood bank
  • Waiting for or riding on public transportation or paratransit or while in a taxi, private car service, or ride-sharing vehicle
  • Engaged in work, whether at the workplace or performing work off-site, when these situations exist:
    • Interacting in-person with any member of the public
    • Working in any space visited by members of the public, regardless of whether anyone from the public is present at the time
    • Working in any space where food is prepared or packaged for sale or distribution to other
    • Working in or walking through common areas, such as hallways, stairways, elevators, and parking facilities
    • In any room or enclosed area where other people (except for members of the person’s own household or residence) are present and when one is unable to physically distance

Additionally, masks are required when operating a public transportation or paratransit vehicle, taxi, or ride-share vehicle when passengers are present, and the CDPH recommends even when driving solo. Masks are also required in outdoor public spaces, if six feet of physical separation is not possible.

Exemptions

Under the guidance, a face covering is not required for the following persons:

  • Persons age two years or under
  • Persons with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a face covering
    • This includes persons with a medical condition for whom wearing a face covering could obstruct breathing or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance
  • Persons who are hearing impaired, or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication
  • Persons for whom wearing a face covering would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines
  • Persons who are obtaining a service involving the nose or face for which temporary removal of the face covering is necessary to perform the service
  • Persons who are seated at a restaurant or other establishment that offers food or beverage service, while they are eating or drinking, provided that they are able to maintain a distance of at least six feet away from persons who are not members of the same household or residence
  • Persons who are engaged in outdoor work or recreation such as swimming, walking, hiking, bicycling, or running, when alone or with household members, and when they are able to maintain a distance of at least six feet from others
  • Persons who are incarcerated

Existing guidelines regarding social distancing and frequent hand-washing remain in effect.

To ensure your business operation remains in compliance with these new California requirements, please contact us at (949) 533-3742 and one of our experienced safety and HR experts will be in touch with you right away.

COVID-19 Workers’ Comp Claim Presumption Flowchart

15 Jun

Jessica Mulholland  June 9, 2020 6  HR Watchdog – Cal Chamber

Workers Comp

In early May, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order extending workers’ compensation benefits to California employees who contract COVID-19 while working outside of their homes during the state’s stay-at-home order. This workers’ compensation benefits extension is causing some confusion, but a Sacramento-based law firm recently created a flowchart to help employers.

As previously reported, the order prompted many questions about its scope, criteria and implementation — and created a “rebuttable presumption” that workers meeting certain criteria who contract COVID-19 did so during employment (which means the law automatically assumes workers’ compensation covers their claims and shifts the burden to employers, who may then present evidence to rebut the presumption).

The California Department of Industrial Relations answered some questions in its Question and Answer page, but Sacramento-based law firm Mullen & Filippi went a step further, creating a COVID Claim Presumption Flowchart to further simplify how employers can determine whether a presumption applies.

Start at the top of the chart. If you answer yes to the first seven questions — which include whether the worker received a COVID-19 diagnosis or tested positive for the virus, whether the diagnosis was from a medical doctor holding a license from the California Medical Board and whether the diagnosis was confirmed with a positive virus or antibody test within 30 days, to name a few — COVID-19 is presumed as an industrial injury. This means that, unless you can rebut the presumption by providing evidence of an alternate cause, you must provide workers’ compensation benefits. If, however, you answer no to any of the questions, no presumption exists, and the normal evidentiary rules apply.

Assuming the claim is compensable, employers can use page two of the flow chart to help determine apportionment, compensable consequences, death benefits and temporary total disability benefits.

This executive order is retroactive to March 19, 2020, and extends through July 5, 2020.

Jessica Mulholland, Managing Editor, CalChamber

For more COVID-19-related federal, state and local resources, visit the CalChamber Coronavirus (COVID-19) webpage and access additional COVID-19-related HRWatchdog blogs.

Can an employee refuse to return to work?

HR CAlif. 6/11/2020

Yes. Although you can’t force a furloughed employee to return to work, their refusal to return may disqualify them from receiving unemployment benefits.

The California Employment Development Department (EDD) has released general guidance on COVID-19-related unemployment benefits.

For example, if a business has abided by local and state guidelines and is providing adequate employee protections, an employee who refuses to return to work out of a general fear of contracting COVID-19 wouldn’t qualify to receive unemployment benefits.

If, however, the business doesn’t have proper protective measures in place, an employee can use the lack of protective measures as a valid reason for not returning to work and will thus be able to claim unemployment benefits.

An employee who earns more money on unemployment cannot use the higher pay as a valid reason for refusing to return to work; their refusal would disqualify them from receiving unemployment benefits.

If an employee doesn’t have suitable childcare and cannot return work, it would likely be good cause for not returning to work and the employee would likely be able to keep their unemployment benefits.

Read more about Unemployment Insurance in the HR Library and HRCalifornia Extra’s Unemployment Insurance: A Guide for Employers with Newly Displaced Workers.

Q&As

OSHA Issues FAQ on Face Coverings

The new guidance outlines the differences between cloth face coverings, surgical masks and respirators.

JUN 10, 2020

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published a series of frequently asked questions and answers regarding the use of masks in the workplace.

“As our economy reopens for business, millions of Americans will be wearing masks in their workplace for the first time,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt. “OSHA is ready to help workers and employers understand how to properly use masks so they can stay safe and healthy in the workplace.”

The new guidance outlines the differences between cloth face coverings, surgical masks and respirators. It further reminds employers not to use surgical masks or cloth face coverings when respirators are needed. In addition, the guidance notes the need for social distancing measures, even when workers are wearing cloth face coverings, and recommends following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance on washing face coverings.

These frequently asked questions and answers mark the latest guidance from OSHA addressing protective measures for workplaces during the coronavirus pandemic. Previously, OSHA published numerous guidance documents for workers and employers, available at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/, including five guidance documents aimed at expanding the availability of respirators.

For further information and resources about the coronavirus disease, please visit OSHA’s coronavirus webpage.

 

Employers Learn How To Help Employees Who Test Positive to COVID-19

10 Jun

June 2020

JOIN OUR   

JUNE 18th  BROADCAST  

Remember …  

Many people have heard this … but like the flight attendant’s warning … we tend to ignore the information unless our plane begins losing altitude. Your goal and ours is to AVOID THE CRASH!

Pat Haley

PAT HALEY

Her effective communication style and problem-solving abilities enable Pat to partner with diverse businesses where emphasis on employee relations matters and both management and employee training helps resolve problems.

WE LOOK

FORWARD TO

YOU JOINING
US …

Pandemic Support

Please Attend Our Broadcast

When: Thursday, June 18   

Time: 10:00 AM pst  

Speaker: Pat Haley

 PHR, CPCU, 

HR & Employee Conflict Trainer 

Topic: Employers Learn How To

Help Employees Who Test Positive to COVID-19
Everyone is back to work and our business is almost back to normal … Or so we thought. Then 3 Weeks Later … when a manager gets a call on a Monday morning – from a customer service employee:

   “I guess I won’t be in for a while…the voice said.

   “I was tested on Saturday afternoon and just got the report”

   “I tested Positive for Covid-19 …What should I do?”

Learn 8 Steps: What to Expect & What to Do

    1. Communication with the Employee – Specific
    2. HR & Recordkeeping – Sample forms
    3. Communication with Close Contacts
    4. Communication with Managers & Supervisors
    5. Communication with Employees
    6. Reactions to the Announcement
    7. Responses to Employees’ Reactions
    8. When the Employee Returns

To Participate Join Zoom Meeting Now:

Meeting ID: 868 8469 7055

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86884697055 

One tap mobile: Find your local number: 

https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kfIULvaz9

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Stage 2 of Reopening California Businesses Starts Friday

11 May

By Alix Martichoux

Stage TwoMonday that the next stage of reopening California’s economy will begin as early as Friday. Some businesses included in the state’s “Stage 2” of reopening will be allowed to resume operations starting Friday, including book stores, clothing stores, toy stores, florists and others.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday that the next stage of reopening California’s economy will begin Friday, May 8, 2020.

Some businesses included in the state’s “Stage 2” of reopening will be allowed to resume operations starting Friday, May 8, including bookstores, clothing stores, toy stores, florists and others. Associated manufacturers that support those retail supply chains will also be allowed to resume production.

Those businesses will be allowed to reopen for curbside pick-up, given they follow additional safety and hygiene protocols that will be released Thursday, Newsom said.

This step doesn’t include all businesses in the state’s “Stage 2,” Department of Public Health Director Dr. Sonia Angell clarified. At this time, office buildings, dine-in restaurants and shopping malls will not be allowed to reopen. (The state’s full four-stage plan to reopen is outlined below.)

Newsom emphasized that local officials still have the authority to accelerate or slow down reopening at the county level.

“We are not telling locals that believe it’s too soon, too fast to modify. We believe those local communities that have separate timelines should be afforded the capacity to advance those timelines,” he said, citing the Bay Area’s “stricter guidelines.”

“If they choose not to come into compliance with the state guidelines, they have that right,” the governor said.

More rural or remote counties with fewer COVID-19 cases will also be allowed to reopen businesses sooner, the governor said, as long as their decisions don’t risk the “the health of the entire state.”

The state is working to create guidelines that will allow restaurants and other hospitality businesses to open their doors again, as well.

“This is a very positive sign and it has happened for only one reason: the data says it can happen,” said Newsom. “But we recognize as we begin to modify … possible community spread will occur. If that is the case, and we don’t have the capacity to control that spread, to track that spread, to isolate individuals that may have been in contact with COVID-19, we will have to make modifications anew.”

The state plans to reopen those sectors in four stages, as described by Dr. Angell:

Stage 1: Everyone is either staying at home or a member of the essential workforce. This is the stage we are in now, and will stay in until a modification to the statewide stay-at-home order.

Stage 2: Reopening lower risk workplaces, including:

  • Non-essential manufacturing (toys, furniture, clothing, etc.)
  • Schools
  • Childcare facilities
  • Retail businesses for curbside pick-up
  • Offices where working remotely isn’t possible, but can be modified to make the environment safer for employees

Stage 3: Reopening higher risk workplaces, which require close proximity to other people, including:

  • Hair salons
  • Nail salons
  • Gyms
  • Movie theaters
  • Sporting events without live audiences
  • In-person religious services (churches and weddings)

Stage 4: Ending the stay-at-home order, which would allow for the reopening of:

  • Concert venues
  • Convention centers
  • Sporting events with live audiences

 

New Model COBRA Notices and Emergency Extensions to COBRA Deadlines Require Employers to Take Action

By Brian M. Johnston and Keith A. Dropkin on May 4, 2020 Jackson Lewis PC

The Department of Labor (DOL) and other federal regulators released updates and clarifications related to employee benefits, including updates to model COBRA notices and an extension of certain statutory deadlines intended to minimize the possibility of participants and beneficiaries losing benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. This article highlights the DOL’s recent changes and updates relating to Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).

Updated COBRA Notices

CobraOn May 1, 2020, the DOL released the first updates to its model COBRA Notices since 2014. The models are for the (i) general or initial notice (provided to employees and covered spouses within the first 90 days of coverage under the group health plan), and (ii) the election notice (provided to qualified beneficiaries within 44 days of the qualifying event resulting in a loss of coverage). The notices inform plan participants and other qualified beneficiaries of their rights to health continuation coverage upon a qualifying event. The release of these updated model COBRA notices is an important reminder for employers to ensure that plan participants receive timely and adequate information about their COBRA rights.

More Information about Medicare:  The primary update to the DOL model notice is a new Q&A section, “Can I enroll in Medicare instead of COBRA continuation coverage after my group health plan coverage ends?”, with similar content in a companion FAQ about COBRA and Medicare options.

Risk of Noncompliance

Employers do not have to use the model notices, however the DOL considers using the model notices, appropriately completed, to be good-faith compliance with COBRA’s notice content requirements. Our firm recently discussed the rapid expansion of class action litigation against employers that issued COBRA election notices that failed to follow the DOL model notice in detail. We strongly recommend that employers use the updated DOL COBRA notice forms (or some enhanced version of such notices).

If the updated model notices are not used, the employer should ensure that their COBRA notices include the most current information from the DOL. Because of the significant exposure for COBRA noncompliance, and because employers retain liability for COBRA compliance even if a third-party vendor is hired for COBRA administration, employers should have their COBRA notices regularly reviewed.

COBRA Deadline Extensions

On April 29, 2020, the DOL and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued a Joint Notice extending certain time frames affecting a participant’s right to continuation of group health plan coverage under COBRA after employment ends. Normally, a qualified beneficiary has 60 days from the date of receipt of the COBRA notice to elect COBRA, another 45 days after the date of the COBRA election to make the initial required COBRA premium payments, and COBRA coverage may be terminated for failure to pay premiums timely. A premium is considered timely if paid within a 30-day grace period.

The Joint Notice extends the above deadlines (and many other participant-related deadlines such as HIPAA special enrollments, claim appeals and external review filings) by requiring plans to disregard the period from March 1, 2020, until 60 days after the announced end of the National Emergency (known as the “Outbreak Period”).

Election Period Extension:  once a participant receives his or her timely COBRA election notification, the applicable COBRA deadlines are now extended until after the Outbreak Period ends. For COBRA election purposes, this means if a qualifying beneficiary receives the election notice on or after March 1, 2020, the 60-day initial COBRA election period does not begin until the end of the Outbreak Period. The participant then has another 45 days after that to make the required COBRA premium payments (that still apply back to the date on which previous employer coverage ended). The more time provided to qualified beneficiaries to elect and pay for coverage retroactive to the date coverage is lost, the greater the opportunity to game the system.

As an example, if the National Emergency period is proclaimed to end on May 31, 2020, the “Outbreak Period” will be deemed to end on July 30, 2020.  If an employee was provided a COBRA election notice on April 1, 2020, that person’s initial COBRA election deadline will be extended from the original deadline of May 31, 2020 (the 60th day from date of receipt of COBRA election notice) to a new COBRA election deadline of September 28, 2020 (i.e., 60 days from the end of the Outbreak Period).  That individual then has 45 more days to make the first COBRA premium payment for all coverage back to the original date of coverage loss.

Premium Payment Extension:  Likewise, for individuals already on COBRA, the deadlines to make required monthly premium contributions are extended until 30 days after the end of the Outbreak Period, and the guidance makes clear that an employer or health insurance carrier cannot terminate coverage or reject any claims for nonpayment of premium during this period. Such coverage termination can only occur if the individual fails to make all the required monthly premium contributions at the end of the Outbreak Period.

For example, an individual previously elected COBRA and has been paying monthly COBRA premiums since March 1, 2020. That individual does not pay applicable monthly COBRA premiums for April, May, June, or July. Under the extension guidance, the Plan must allow the individual until 30 days after the end of the Outbreak Period (or, August 29, using the dates from the prior example) to fully pay all prior months of COBRA premiums to maintain the COBRA coverage.  Health plans and insurance carriers are burdened with holding all claims submitted during the extension period to know whether coverage will or won’t be paid as required.

Employer COBRA Notice Period Extension:  The Joint Notice potentially also allows plans, plan administrators, and employers to have extra time to provide the COBRA election notice but the guidance is unclear about how that extension period applies. Until further guidance is issued to add clarity, we recommend that employers, other plan sponsors and administrators continue to send the COBRA election notices based on existing law and rely on the extension only if necessary.

Complications will likely result under this new guidance, and thus we strongly recommend working with COBRA administrators to ensure proper compliance is maintained throughout the Outbreak Period and beyond.

Participant Options for Coverage

Lastly, the DOL updated its ongoing FAQ guidance for participants to know and understand their health insurance and other benefit rights and coverage options before, during, and after the National Emergency period ends. While this guidance is directed to participants and beneficiaries, employers may also find it instructive to ensure they are providing proper coverage alternatives.

More Information

Employers can find a consolidation of almost all the DOL’s recent COVID-19 related guidance about benefits on its website.

 

Screening and Accommodation Issues Related to Returning to Work

By: Robin E. Largent Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger LLP © 2020

Screening For Work

Over the last few weeks, the EEOC has been updating its guidance for employers on handling various COVID-19 issues in the workplace, including on the topics of health screenings and when reasonable accommodation is, and is not, needed.  In some areas, the EEOC’s guidance continues to evolve, particularly on the issue of handling employees who have underlying medical conditions that make them high-risk for COVID-19 complications, but who do not have COVID-19 or COVID-19 symptoms.  This article summarizes the EEOC’s latest guidance on these important return-to-work issues.

Health Screenings

The EEOC has taken the position that temperature screening, symptom and exposure screening, and COVID-testing are all permissible tools for employers to consider when bringing employees back to work.  What if an employee refuses to participate?  According to a recorded webinar provided by the EEOC, the employee can be denied entry into the workplace if an employee refuses to answer screening questions and/or submit to temperature screening.  The EEOC has not directly answered whether an employer may refuse entry to an employee who refuses an actual COVID-19 test (which is more invasive than a health screening questionnaire or a temperature screening).

On the issue of symptom and exposure screening, the EEOC states that employers may ask all employees who will be physically entering the workplace if they have COVID-19, or symptoms associated with COVID-19, or ask if they have been tested for COVID-19. Symptoms associated with COVID-19 include, for example, cough, sore throat, fever, chills, and shortness of breath.  Additional symptoms may include new loss of smell or taste as well as gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Employers may not ask employees who are teleworking these questions.  Employers may also ask employees who will be physically entering the workplace whether they have been exposed to anyone with COVID-19 or its symptoms.  Employers should not limit the question to whether the employee has been exposed to any “family members” with COVID-19 or COVID-19 symptoms because GINA generally restricts inquiries into the medical conditions of an employee’s family.

Employers who will conduct screening or testing generally should apply the same requirements to all employees entering the workplace, rather than singling out individual employees for screening.  An exception may be if a specific employee is exhibiting symptoms, in which case an employer may inquire if the employee may have COVID-19 and/or if the employee has been tested.  Employees with symptoms may be sent home.

All medical information obtained from an employee and documented must be maintained in a confidential medical file for the employee.  Importantly, if an employer learns that an employee has Covid-19, the employer must protect the confidentiality of that information.  It is permissible to ask the employee which coworkers with whom he/she has been in physical contact and then to notify those workers that they may have been exposed, but the employer generally should not identify the worker with COVID-19 to others.

The EEOC has not yet addressed the permissibility of COVID-19 antibody testing, whether this may be required of all employees, and whether an employee can be denied entry into the workplace without a test.

Is COVID-19 a Disability?

The EEOC states that “it is not yet clear” whether COVID-19 is or could be a disability.  However, employers may prevent those with COVID-19 from entering the workplace because they would pose a direct threat to employee safety.

Employees Who Are 65 and Older

The EEOC states that employers may NOT exclude employees who are 65 and older from the workplace simply because they are in a higher risk group for serious complications from COVID-19.  The EEOC guidance states:  “The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits employment discrimination against workers aged 40 and over. If the reason for an action is older age, over age 40, the law would not permit employers to bar older workers from the workplace, to require them to telework, or to place them on involuntary leave.”

Relatedly, the EEOC states that employers are not required to grant a request to telework by an employee who is 65 or older simply because the employee is in a high-risk group for COVID-19 complications.  (Of course, the employer may voluntarily permit telework in this circumstance.)

Please note that the EEOC’s guidance on this issue may conflict with some state or local shelter-at-home orders, which direct older employees to shelter at home.  Employers need to consider the applicability of these orders and not just ADA/Title VII considerations when making decisions concerning this issue.  If a shelter-at-home order is in place that states that older individuals (defined varyingly as 60+, 65+, and 70+ depending on jurisdiction) should shelter at home, employers should accommodate telework for these individuals while the order remains in effect.  If telework is not feasible for this employee, the employer needs to consider state and local guidance as well as EEOC guidance in determining whether to prohibit the employee from returning to work (e.g. where the employee wants to return to work even though in a high-risk age group).  This poses age discrimination risk under EEOC guidance.  Unfortunately, the California DFEH has not provided its own guidance on this issue for California employers.

Employees With Underlying Medical Conditions

What are employers’ obligations with respect to accommodating employees who have underlying medical conditions that place them at higher risk for serious COVID-19 complications according to CDC guidance?  This is an issue that the EEOC continues to grapple with, having published and then retracted guidance on this issue just yesterday, with a statement that the guidance is being reviewed and will be published at a later date.  For now, the EEOC states that individuals with underlying medical conditions rendering them high-risk may be entitled to reasonable accommodations under the ADA to prevent “direct threat to self.”  Such an employee should request accommodation and the employer has a duty to engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine reasonable accommodations.  The employer can request supporting medical documentation specifying that the employee has a disability that puts him/her at higher risk for severe complications from COVID-19 (remember that in CA, employers may not require specific identification/diagnosis of the underlying medical condition) and that, as such, an accommodation is needed.  Reasonable accommodations may include telework, provision of additional personal protective equipment or enhanced protective measures (for physical presence in the workplace) such as moving the location of an employee’s workspace to allow greater social distancing or protection, and/or elimination of marginal job duties.

Pregnant Employees

The EEOC guidance states that employers are not required to allow pregnant employees to telework or otherwise provide special accommodations for them due to COVID-19 because pregnancy itself is not a disability.  However, if an employee has a pregnancy-related disability for which the employee needs accommodation, the employer should engage in the interactive process and determine whether reasonable accommodation is appropriate.  Additionally, if the employer allows other employees to work from home as an unofficial accommodation, the employer should not treat pregnant employees differently because that may give rise to a pregnancy discrimination claim.

Employees Living With Someone Who Is in a High-Risk Category

The EEOC states that an employer is not required to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee who is living with someone who has a disability that makes the individual high risk for serious COVID-19 illness.  The ADA only requires reasonable accommodation of an employee’s own disability, not those of a family member.

Although an employer is not required to accommodate employees in this situation, employers may wish to voluntarily do so (e.g. provide an unpaid leave of absence or allow telework for a limited period of time) in order to avoid risk of claims/lawsuits and the associated cost of defense.

Personal Protective Equipment Upon Return to Work

If an employer requires employees to wear personal protective equipment in the workplace (e.g. masks, gloves) and an employee reports that he/she has a disability that prevents the employee from wearing the required protective equipment, the employer may have a duty to reasonably accommodate the employee by providing different protective equipment (e.g. non-latex gloves) or allowing an exception from the requirement, possibly with the imposition of different protective measures for that employee.

What About Undue Hardship?

Under established disability accommodation law, employers have a duty to reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities, unless doing so would be an undue hardship for the employer.  Undue hardship generally means “significant difficulty or expense.”  The undue hardship exception remains the law even in the COVID-19 era.  However, the EEOC acknowledges that accommodations that would not have posed an undue hardship pre-COVID may pose undue hardship now due to financial struggles faced by employers and other limitations on staffing.

In assessing whether a particular accommodation poses “significant difficulty,” an employer may consider whether current circumstances create “significant difficulty” in acquiring or providing certain accommodations, considering the facts of the particular job and workplace.  For example, it may be significantly more difficult in this pandemic to conduct a needs assessment or to acquire certain items, and delivery may be impacted, particularly for employees who may be teleworking.  Or, it may be significantly more difficult to provide employees with temporary assignments, to remove marginal functions, or to readily hire temporary workers for specialized positions.  If a particular accommodation poses an undue hardship, employers and employees should work together to determine if there may be an alternative that could be provided that does not pose such problems.

In assessing whether a particular accommodation poses “significant expense,” the sudden loss of some or all of an employer’s income stream because of this pandemic is a relevant consideration.  Also relevant is the amount of discretionary funds available at this time – when considering other expenses – and whether there is an expected date that current restrictions on an employer’s operations will be lifted (or new restrictions will be added or substituted).  These considerations do not mean that an employer can reject any accommodation that costs money; an employer must weigh the cost of an accommodation against its current budget while taking into account constraints created by this pandemic.  For example, even under current circumstances, there may be many no-cost or very low-cost accommodations.

2020 Heat Illness Standards

23 Apr

April 2020

Temperatures across Southern CA and the San Joaquin Valley will be reaching close to 90 degrees by the end of this week. With temperatures increasing the likelihood of employees falling victim to Heat Illness is high.

Take measures to prevent any employees from being affected by the heat this week and in the upcoming spring and summer months with preventative training.

 

*Monitor Your Local Weather by Phone or News*

California Employers Are Required to Take
These 4 Steps to Prevent Heat Illness:

Training
Train all employees and supervisors about heat illness prevention.
 
Water
Provide enough fresh water so that each employee can drink at least one quart per hour, or four 8-ounce glasses, of water per hour, and encourage them to do so.
Shade @ 80 Degrees
Provide access to shade and encourage employees to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least five minutes. They should not wait until they feel sick to cool down.
Planning
Develop and implement written procedures for complying with the Cal/OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Standard. Have copies of written standards on hand where employees are working, including remote locations.
 
CalWorkSafety & HR Helps You With Compliance:

Written Plans, Training and other Compliance Issues.

Learn More: email: dondressler1@hotmail.com

Correction: New Effective Date for Form I-9

17 Apr

On March 8, 2013, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced the revised Employment Eligibility Verification, Form I-9, and published a notice in the Federal Register.

In the initial announcement, USCIS described when employers can no longer use prior versions of Form I-9. USCIS incorrectly described the effective date as being after May 7, 2013.

USCIS published a correction notice in the Federal Register. This notice corrects the error and clarifies that beginning May 7, 2013, employers may no longer use prior versions of the Form I-9.
The new form bears a revision date of 03/08/13.
According to USCIS, “although employers should begin using the 03/08/13 dated form right away, older forms dated 02/02/09 and 08/07/09 will be accepted until May 7, 2013. Beginning May 7, 2013, only the 03/08/13 will be accepted. The revision date is on the lower left corner of the form.”