New Challenges, New Rules, and New Rights for Returning to Work After COVID-19 for California Workers
Much has changed because of the current pandemic and returning to work after COVID-19 shutdowns is no exception. The reopening of many California workplaces and the recall of furloughed employees or those who worked from home raises questions and concerns for workers across the state.
Understandably, health and safety remain a top worry for returning employees, as well as that of the family members they go home to each day. Many also wonder what happens to their job and their rights if they get sick or need to care for a loved one because of the virus
Here are just a few of the significant issues facing California workers as they return to their offices, factories, warehouses, and other workplaces.
Right to a Safe Workplace When Returning to Work after COVID-19
Federal and California laws require all employers to provide and maintain a safe workplace for their employees. But what that means during the COVID-19 era can be complicated, especially as experts learn more about how the virus spreads and frequent changes to government guidelines and restrictions.
Employees have a right to expect that their employers follow all laws, executive orders, and other rules and limitations established by local and state governments and public health authorities regarding indoor spaces and employee safety. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) recommends that employers and employees follow the guidance provided by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for basic information about how to minimize risks from COVID in the workplace.
The CDC guidance includes detailed suggestions as well as general policies and protocols, including:
- Conducting daily employee health checks
- Conducting a workplace hazard assessment
- Encouraging employees to wear masks and cloth face coverings in the workplace
- Implementing policies and practices for social distancing
- Improving building ventilation systems
Employees Who Want to Continue Telecommuting Instead of Returning to Work After COVID
While just about everyone is vulnerable to coronavirus, some people are at elevated risk because of preexisting health conditions, such as immunodeficiency disorders. For such employees, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) may require their employer to make a “reasonable accommodation” to facilitate the performance of their job in a way that accounts for their disability in the context of COVID-19.
Guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) addresses several pandemic-related employment and ADA issues.
School Closures and Other COVID-19 Reasons for Family and Medical Leave
One of the federal government’s first legislative responses to the pandemic was the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The act, which applies to employers with less than 500 employees, established a new type of protected employee leave: paid family and medical leave for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Employees can take FFCRA leave, and employers cannot terminate or retaliate against them for doing so if they need to take time off because:
- The person has or possibly has COVID-19
- Employees need to care for someone in their household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, or
- They need to care for their minor children because their school, daycare center, or other child-care services are closed due to COVID-19
The first two types of leave are limited to two weeks, but the third type (to care for a child) can run up to 12 weeks in total.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has guidance for employers and employees about their family and medical leave rights under the FFCRA.
Additionally, under a recently passed California law, employers must also provide employees with information about their FFCRA leave rights and all other COVID-19 benefits under federal, state, or local laws. This includes workers’ compensation, company sick leave, state-mandated leave, supplemental sick leave, anti-retaliation, and anti-discrimination protections.
Employees Who Test Positive for COVID-19
Employees who feel sick or are experiencing any symptoms related to COVID-19 should never, under any circumstances, go to their workplace. If a worker does test positive for COVID-19, they should let their employer know immediately. Employers should have protocols in place to address an employee who becomes ill or tests positive for COVID-19. Again, CDC guidance is an excellent source for information about what to do, including:
- Isolating/quarantining infected employees
- Isolating employees working near an infected coworker
- Cleaning and disinfecting the workplace
According to the CDPH, employees who test positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 and experienced symptoms may return to work or when:
- It has been at least ten days since their first symptoms, AND
- They have gone at least 24 hours with no fever (without the use of fever-reducing medications), AND
- All other symptoms have improved.
Individuals who test positive for SARS-CoV-2 who never develop symptoms may return to work 10 days after the date of their first positive test for SARS-CoV-2.
Testing for Employees Returning to Work After COVID
Employers can require that employees test negative for COVID-19 before allowing them to return to the workplace. Companies can also require that new hires get a test as a condition of their employment. According to EEOC guidance on the subject, “employers may take steps to determine if employees entering the workplace have COVID-19 because an individual with the virus will pose a direct threat to the health of others.”
Preferred Insurance: Providing California Workers and Employers With Health Insurance Options and Guidance During Challenging Times
These are unprecedented times. Affordable and accessible employee health insurance is more important than ever before. As an experienced California small business and individual health insurance broker, Preferred Insurance is available to answer your questions and provide practical, affordable solutions during these uncertain times. We can meet all of your coverage needs remotely and take care of everything via video conference, phone, or email.
Contact Preferred Insurance today to arrange for your free consultation to discuss your small business or individual health insurance needs.
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