As state and local governments slowly permit employees to return to work, employers need to be prepared to safeguard both themselves and their employees related to COVID-19. Some of the questions employers should be asking themselves include:
Do my employees need to return to work? One of the initial issues that should be considered is whether it is absolutely necessary to have employees return to work in the first place. While many places of employment do require employees to be present at the workplace, many are realizing that employees remain efficient while working remotely. Your company should consider permitting employees to continue to work remotely if feasible or potentially setting an alternative schedule allowing employees to split their time between remote and onsite work so as to promote social distancing and a less congested workplace.
Do I have the proper postings and policies in place? Your company should post reminders around the workplace advising the employees of the CDC recommendations and local requirements that should be followed while at the workplace. This should include self-monitoring symptoms, a policy advising employees that they may not come into work if they are not feeling well, and other sanitization and social distancing obligations. Importantly, employees should be trained on their obligations under the new health and safety policies.
Have I provided the PPE to employees and taken steps to properly sanitize the workplace to ensure the safety of my employees? Many state and local health departments require employees to follow certain social distancing and sanitization protocols while at the workplace. Employees should be provided with proper PPE, including masks, and require their employees to follow sanitization protocols, which include social distancing and the use of hand sanitizer. Due to the mandatory nature of the protocols in place, the employer should be prepared to make available all mandatory PPE at no cost to the employee.
Can I screen my employees for symptoms of COVID-19? While the EEOC and DFEH have specifically approved of the implementation of a COVID-19 health screening process by employers, a detailed policy distributed to the employees outlining the process is essential to ensure that the employer is not at risk of liability. Prior to implementing the health screening, protocols must be in place to ensure that the health data collected is kept confidential to the extent possible and the employer should evaluate whether the employees are entitled to receive notice under the newly enacted California Consumer Privacy Act.
What do I do if an employee has been exposed to, or tests positive for COVID-19? A comprehensive policy should be drafted explaining exactly what will happen if an employee has been exposed to or tests positive for COVID-19. The CDC guidance should be consulted, which recommends specific actions including a quarantine period for both the infected employee as well as employees who have had close contact with that person and deep cleaning requirements of the workspace. If your company has 500 or fewer employees, you may also be obligated to provide paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
While the above provides some general advice, it is important to consult federal, state, and local guidance to ensure that you are taking all the appropriate steps to safely return employees to work. Additionally, there are multiple state and local stay-at-home orders which may impose other obligations for an employer to safely return its employees to work.
For further guidance to help your company navigate these unprecedented issues, please contact Drew Pomerance at (818) 992-9999, ext. 212, Michael Adreani, at ext. 234, Marina Vitek, at ext. 236, or Trevor Witt, at ext. 224.
In the meantime, we hope you are healthy and staying safe.