On January 8, the Department of Occupational and Safety (Cal/OSHA) updated its interpretive guidance concerning emergency COVID-19 regulations that took effect on November 30, 2020. The guidance reflects new information concerning employer obligations and employee entitlements under both Title 8 Sections 3205 and 3205.1, which, respectively, relate to the COVID-19 Prevention Program (CPP)[1] and workplace COVID-19 outbreaks[2].

While Cal/OSHA provides additional information on more than three dozen topics, the purpose of this special bulletin is to provide operational guidance on the more important of these topics,  including: (1) the scope of the regulation’s coverage as it pertains to certain employees; (2) employer testing obligations in the event of “close contact” exposures[3] and/or COVID-19 outbreaks; (3) clarification concerning the definition of an “exposed workplace” for purposes of establishing that a COVID-19 outbreak has occurred; and (4) employer requests to Cal/OSHA to waive the exclusion or quarantine requirements for certain employees.

In addition to describing the Cal/OSHA updates in this special bulletin, Liebert Cassidy Whitmore also updated our template CPP for consortium and non-consortium members and guide to reflect this information. Employers that purchased the template will be receiving the updated version. Other employers should consider purchasing the updated LCW template and guide in order to revise their own CPP documents.

Scope of Regulatory Coverage

Cal/OSHA clarifies the scope of coverage for its regulations, including as it relates to the following two (2) groups of employees: (1) employees who are or may be subject to a related regulation, Section 5199, which concerns Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (“ATDs”); and (2) employees who are vaccinated for COVID-19.

Employees Who May Perform “Services” Covered by Section 5199

Section 3205 expressly exempts from coverage “[e]mployees when covered by [Title 8] Section 5199”.[4] That regulation covers “health care facilities, services, or operations”, and also certain “services”, including those provided by some firefighters and police officers.[5]

Specifically, Section 5199 applies to “[p]aramedic and emergency medical services including these services when provided by firefighters and other emergency responders.”[6] Section 5199 also applies to “[p]olice services, provided during transport or detention of persons reasonably anticipated to be cases or suspected cases of aerosol transmissible diseases; and police services provided in conjunction with health care or public health operations.” Therefore, firefighters and police may be covered by Section 5199, and exempt from Section 3205, when those employees are actually performing the specific services described above.

While Cal/OSHA’s updated guidance discusses employees who work in facilities and operations covered by Section 5199, it omits reference to employees whose coverage depends on the services that the employee performs. The guidance provides that if an employee works in a “single workplace” or “facility or operation” “that is within the scope of section 5199”, the employee is covered by the requirements of Section 5199, and not Section 3205.[7] The guidance does not discuss “services” at all nor does it describe how employers of safety employees should approach or manage the two regulatory schemes to which firefighters and police officers may be subject depending on the services that they perform. Specifically, the guidance does not answer the question as to whether a safety employee who may occasionally perform the “services” that are within the scope of Section 5199, but do not work at a “facility or operation” covered by that regulation, is covered by Section 3205 or 5199 or both regulations.

As a result of the lack of guidance provided by Cal/OSHA on this subject, Liebert Cassidy Whitmore recommends that, unless the employee in question works at a “facility or operation” covered by Section 5199 or is actually performing one of the “services” expressly covered by that regulation, the employee’s employer should consider that such employee is covered by Section 3205.

Employees Who are Vaccinated Remain Subject to Regulatory Requirements

The Cal/OSHA guidance also provides that, for the time being at least, the scope of coverage for the regulations includes employees who have been vaccinated for COVID-19.[8] Cal/OSHA suggests that this guidance may change in the future, but that the regulatory requirements currently cover such employees and the employers of such employees. Liebert Cassidy Whitmore advises employers, particularly those with vaccinated employees, to monitor guidance from Cal/OSHA on this topic.

Testing Obligations in the Event of “Close Contact” Workplace Exposures and “COVID-19 Outbreaks”

In addition to issues related to the scope of coverage, Cal/OSHA also clarifies several points about an employer’s obligations regarding testing employees for COVID-19 in the event that there is a “close contact” exposure under Section 3205 or a “COVID-19 outbreak” under Section 3205.1.[9]

First, Cal/OSHA clarifies that there is no difference between the regulatory requirement to “offer testing” to employees who had a “close contact” COVID-19 exposure in the workplace[10] and the requirement to “provide COVID-19 testing” to all employees at the “exposed workplace” in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak[11]. This guidance clarifies confusion concerning whether the use of different verbiage entailed different obligations to employees under each circumstance.

Second, Cal/OSHA provides that the employer does not need to offer employees COVID-19 testing in or at their worksite following a “close contact” exposure or a COVID-19 outbreak, but can offer such testing at off-site locations. The construction of both Sections 3205 and 3205.1 was unclear on this point and contributed to confusion as to whether employers were required to provide testing to employees in or at the workplace where the exposure or potential exposure occurred or just to those employees who were in or at that workplace.[12] Cal/OSHA’s guidance clarifies that there is no obligation to provide the requisite testing at any specific location.

Relatedly, Cal/OSHA provides that, in order to discharge their obligations to provide “free testing” for employees under both Section 3205 and 3205.1, the employer may send such employees to an off-site testing location and during non-working hours, but must ensure that such employees “incur no costs for the testing.”[13] As a result, employers must provide such employees compensation for their travel time and the costs incurred for such travel as well as pay for the time actually being tested, if during non-working hours.[14]

While these clarifications are consistent with Liebert Cassidy Whitmore’s prior interpretations of the regulation and advice provided to clients, we reiterate our advice to employers to do the following: (1) offer testing to all employees who had “close contact” exposure to someone with COVID-19 while at work or who were at the “exposed workplace” during a COVID-19 outbreak; (2) compensate employee for the testing either by providing such testing during the employee’s regular working hours or by supplementing the employee’s pay for the time spent being tested during non-working hours; and (3) either provide employee testing at the employer’s worksite or compensate employees for costs incurred by employees traveling to and from the off-site testing location.

While Cal/OSHA provided some useful information concerning employers’ testing obligations, the guidance did not address whether an employer may permissibly direct an employee to be tested by the employee’s health care provider if the employer reimburses the employee for the health insurance costs, if any, charged to the employee for such testing. This legal issue is presently unsettled. Until Cal/OSHA answers this question, employers should recognize that there are risks associated with requiring that employees incur expenses associated with their actual testing, even if the employer reimburses such expenses.

Clarification as to What Constitutes an “Exposed Workplace” for Purposes of Establishing the Existence of a COVID-19 Outbreak and Related Employer Obligations

Cal/OSHA provides guidance concerning the conditions necessary for the establishment of a COVID-19 outbreak under Section 3205.1.

Cal/OSHA provided that, in order to establish a COVID-19 outbreak and trigger the resulting regulatory obligations under Section 3205.1, the “exposed workplace” is not an entire workplace or building, but rather “only the areas of the [workplace or] building where the COVID-19 were present,” including a specific “work location, working area, or common are used or accessed by a COVID-19 case.”[15] This interpretive guidance narrows the scope of the physical area in which three (3) or more COVID-19 cases must be present in order for there to be an “outbreak.”

Cal/OSHA further clarifies that it “does not expect employers to treat areas where masked workers momentarily pass through the same space without interacting or congregating as an ‘exposed workplace,’ so they may focus on locations where transmission is more likely.”[16] Finally, Cal/OSHA indicates that separate non-overlapping shifts who work at the same location may each constitute a “separate ‘exposed workplace.’”[17]

Taken together, Cal/OSHA’s interpretations allow for an employer to disaggregate the specific “workplaces” that may comprise a single “worksite”, which may significantly reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 outbreaks under the regulation. As a result, Liebert Cassidy Whitmore recommends that employers subdivide large worksites into smaller workplaces. Further, in the event that there are three (3) or more COVID-19 cases at a worksite, we recommend that the employer identify whether there were a sufficient number of such COVID-19 cases in any one of the specifically identified workplaces necessary in order for the COVID-19 cases to constitute a COVID-19 outbreak at such workplace. Relatedly, Cal/OSHA states that it will consider an employer’s good faith effort to comply with the regulations before issuing any citations or monetary penalties.[18]

Request for Cal/OSHA Waiver of the Regulatory Exclusion/Quarantine Requirement

Cal/OSHA provides information regarding how and under what circumstances an employer may request that Cal/OSHA waive the requirement that employees be excluded from employer worksites and facilities following a “close contact” exposure or COVID-19 diagnosis.[19] The underlying regulation provided no information about how to request such a waiver from Cal/OSHA.[20]

Cal/OSHA clarifies that such requests should only be made if the absence of such employee from the employer’s worksite would cause a staffing shortage that would have an “adverse on a community’s health and safety” and pose an undue risk to the community’s health and safety as a result.[21] The guidance makes clear that the type of operations that may qualify for waiver are “narrower than the definition of ‘critical infrastructure’” and that Cal/OSHA will not provide waivers to employers in anticipation of a future workplace exposure or outbreak, but only if such exposure or outbreak has occurred.[22]

While Cal/OSHA does not discuss guidance provided the California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) the quarantines following “close contact” exposure, Liebert Cassidy Whitmore interprets the Cal/OSHA waiver as separate and distinct from the expedited return to work provided to certain employees under the CDPH framework. While this question is untested and therefore unsettled, the firm interprets Cal/OSHA guidance as potentially authorizing the immediate return to work for individuals following a “close contact” exposure or COVID-19 diagnosis under the emergency circumstances described in the regulation and associated guidance.

The Cal/OSHA guidance provides for how an employer may request a waiver. An employer should submit the request to rs@dir.ca.gov, but that in the event of an emergency, an employer may request a provisional waiver by contacting the local Cal/OSHA office while the employer prepares the written waiver request. The written waiver request should provide the following:

  1. Employer name and business or service;
  2. Employer point-of-contact name, address, email and phone number;
  3. Statement that there are no local or state health officer orders for isolation or quarantine of the excluded employees;
  4. Statement describing the way(s) in which excluding the exposed or COVID-19 positive employees from the workplace impacts the employer’s operation in a way that creates an undue risk to the community’s health and safety;
  5. Number of employees required to be quarantined under the Cal/OSHA regulation, and whether each was exposed to COVID-19 or tested positive for COVID-19; and
  6. The employer’s control measures to prevent transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace if the employee(s) return or continue to work in the workplace, including the prevention of further exposures. These measures may include, but are not limited to, preventative steps such as isolating the returned employee(s) at the workplace and requiring that other employees use respiratory protection in the workplace.

Liebert Cassidy Whitmore recommends that, in advance of a potential workplace exposure or COVID-19 outbreak that would jeopardize the employer’s ability to continue to provide essential services, an employer identify portions of its operations and job classifications, in particular, that are necessary to provide for the health and safety of the community. Further, we recommend that employers prepare a template waiver request, or use the one developed by our firm and available to Liebert Library subscribers, in order to expedite a written waiver request to Cal/OSHA in the event of an incident that would compromise the employer’s ability to adequately provide for the community’s health and safety.

Conclusion

While there remain a number of unanswered questions concerning the Cal/OSHA regulations regarding COVID-19, the January update provides some important clarifications with which employers should be familiar. This information will help employers ensure compliance with the regulations and minimize potential legal exposure due to non-compliance.

Liebert Cassidy Whitmore attorneys are available to assist public agencies that have any questions about this guidance.

[1] See 8 C.C.R § 3205.

[2] 8 C.C.R § 3205.1.

[3] “Close contact” exposure has the same definition as the term “COVID-19 exposure” as used in the regulation. (See 8 C.C.R. § 3205(b)(3).)

[4] 8 C.C.R § 3205(a)(1)(C)

[5] 8 C.C.R § 5199(a)(1)(A)(8), (a)(1)(C).

[6] 8 C.C.R § 5199(a)(1)(A)(8).

[7] See Cal/OSHA “COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards Frequently Asked Questions”, Nos. 6 and 7, https://dir.ca.gov/dosh/coronavirus/COVID19FAQs.html#footnote (Last updated on January 8, 2021.)

[8] See Cal/OSHA “COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards Frequently Asked Questions”, No. 24, https://dir.ca.gov/dosh/coronavirus/COVID19FAQs.html#footnote (Last updated on January 8, 2021.)

[9] See Cal/OSHA “COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards Frequently Asked Questions”, Nos. 28-30, https://dir.ca.gov/dosh/coronavirus/COVID19FAQs.html#footnote (Last updated on January 8, 2021.)

[10] 8 C.C.R. § 3205(c)(3)(B)(4).

[11] 8 C.C.R. § 3205.1(b)1).

[12] See 8 C.C.R. §§ 3205(c)(3)(B)(4) and 3205.1(b)1).

[13] See Cal/OSHA “COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards Frequently Asked Questions”, No. 30, https://dir.ca.gov/dosh/coronavirus/COVID19FAQs.html#footnote (Last updated on January 8, 2021.)

[14] The underlying regulations provides that the testing must be offered or provided “during their working hours” and “during employees’ working hours.”

[15] See Cal/OSHA “COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards Frequently Asked Questions”, Nos. 38-39, 41-42, https://dir.ca.gov/dosh/coronavirus/COVID19FAQs.html#footnote (Last updated on January 8, 2021.); See also 8 C.C.R. § 3205(b)(7).

[16] See Cal/OSHA “COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards Frequently Asked Questions”, No. 38, https://dir.ca.gov/dosh/coronavirus/COVID19FAQs.html#footnote (Last updated on January 8, 2021.)

[17] See Cal/OSHA “COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards Frequently Asked Questions”, No. 44, https://dir.ca.gov/dosh/coronavirus/COVID19FAQs.html#footnote (Last updated on January 8, 2021.)

[18] See Cal/OSHA “COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards Frequently Asked Questions”, No. 10, https://dir.ca.gov/dosh/coronavirus/COVID19FAQs.html#footnote (Last updated on January 8, 2021.)

[19] See Cal/OSHA “COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards Frequently Asked Questions”, Nos. 61-62, https://dir.ca.gov/dosh/coronavirus/COVID19FAQs.html#footnote (Last updated on January 8, 2021.)

[20] 8 C.C.R. § 3205(c)(11)(E).

[21] See Cal/OSHA “COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards Frequently Asked Questions”, No. 61, https://dir.ca.gov/dosh/coronavirus/COVID19FAQs.html#footnote (Last updated on January 8, 2021.)

[22] Id.

We are excited to continue our video series – Tips from the Table. In these videos, members of LCW’s Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining practice group will provide various tips that can be implemented at your bargaining tables. We hope that you will find these clips informative and helpful in your negotiations.

 

On January 7, 2021, the United States Department of Labor (DOL) published a final rule establishing new guidance on classifying individuals as independent contractors under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  The new guidance is set forth in Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations at Part 795.100 et seq. and is available online here.  The effective date of the final rule is March 8, 2021.

For California employers, the new DOL rule has little to no immediate effect due to established Ninth Circuit law on evaluating independent contractor status under the FLSA.  In addition, the California legislature adopted a new test for evaluating independent contractor status under California law.  The California ABC test was discussed in a previous LCW bulletin available online here.  In addition, the California common law test for independent contractor status still applies to certain categories of individuals and is used by CalPERS.  Nevertheless, it is possible courts will incorporate the new DOL guidance in evaluating independent contractor status in a way that will affect California public agencies.  Thus, we recommend employers familiarize themselves with the test and its concepts.

What is an Independent Contractor?

In the context of employment law, an “independent contractor” is an individual or entity that performs services for a potential employer, but is not an employee.  The significance of the distinction between employee and independent contractor is that an independent contractor is not covered by many of the laws governing employers and employees, such as the FLSA.  In this way, a person performing services as an independent contractor need not be paid minimum wage or overtime, among other statutory benefits that attach to employee status.

A simple example of an independent contractor (under both California and federal law) would be an individual like an electrician, hired to fix a one-time, specialized problem for a fee.  The independent contractor electrician would have multiple clients, be in business for themselves, use their own tools, decline work at their option, and generally would have complete control over the work the electrician was hired to perform.  In contrast, most employees must perform services for their employers at prescribed times and places; their work is directed and overseen by managers; and their compensation is regulated by law.

There are, however, many grey areas between the classic independent contractor and the classic employee.  It is within this grey area where employing entities may misclassify an employee as an independent contractor.  Misclassification may subject an employer to back minimum wages and overtime, liquidated damages, and other penalties.  In addition, for California public agencies, misclassification may give rise to significant liability under applicable pension systems.

The New DOL Two-Factor Test for Independent Contractor Status

Under the new DOL test for independent contractor status, an individual is an independent contractor if the individual is, “as a matter of economic reality,” in business for themselves.  Whereas an employee is economically dependent on the employer, an independent contractor is not.  To determine economic dependence, the DOL will look at two “core” economic reality factors, which the DOL believes are the most probative of economic dependence: (i) The nature and degree of control over the work, and (ii) The individual’s opportunity for profit or loss.  Other, non-core factors the DOL will look at are the amount of skill required for the work, the degree of permanence of the working relationship, and whether the work is part of an integrated unit of production.  Additional factors may also be relevant if they indicate the individual is in business for themselves, as opposed to being economically dependent on the potential employer.

Interestingly, the new DOL test’s factors are similar to the six factors articulated by the Ninth Circuit in the case, Real v. Driscoll Strawberry Associates, which established the still-governing law in California on evaluating independent contractor status under the FLSA.  Where the new DOL rule departs from the Ninth Circuit is in its emphasis on the nature and degree of control over the work and the individual’s opportunity for profit or loss.  It remains to be seen whether the Ninth Circuit or other courts will adopt the DOL’s designation of these two factors as “core,” or will otherwise incorporate the new DOL rule.

Four Tests for Independent Contractor Status

With the issuance of the DOL’s final rule, California public employers are faced with four overlapping, yet distinct tests for independent contractor status: the DOL’s new federal two-factor standard, the Ninth Circuit’s six-factor standard under Driscoll, the California three-factor “ABC test,” and the California common-law multi-factor standard under S.G. Borello & Sons, Inc. v. Department of Industrial Relations.  The below chart sets forth the basic elements of each test.  As you can see, the degree of control a potential employer exerts over an individual is a factor in each test.  Under the current Ninth Circuit test, employers have more flexibility in evaluating independent contractor status.  In contrast, the California ABC test is more rigid and significantly limits independent contractor status.  Employers that adhere to the California ABC test will likely be in compliance with the common law and federal tests.  Public agency employers are encouraged to work with counsel to determine which test – or combination of tests – to use in evaluating independent contractor status.

FLSA

(Ninth Circuit)

FLSA

(DOL)

California Law

(CA Labor Code)

California Law

(Common Law / CalPERS)

“Driscoll” 29 C.F.R. 795.100, et seq. Cal. Lab. Code 2775, et seq.

“Borello”

 

Six Factors:

·   Nature and degree of control

·   Opportunity for profit/loss

·   Investment in facilities/equipment/employment of helpers

·   Special skill required

·   Permanency of working relationship

·   Services rendered are integral part of hiring entity’s business

Two-Factor Test:

(i)      Nature and degree of control

(ii)    Opportunity for profit/loss.

Other Factors:

·         Skill required

·         Degree of permanence of working relationship,

·         work part of an integrated unit of production

ABC Test:

A)      Free from control and direction of hiring entity

B)      Work performed outside usual course of hiring entity’s business

C)      Person customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business

Control of Work Test

·     Who controls the work

·      Secondary factors: engaged in district occupation /business; work done by specialist without supervision; particular skill required; who supplies tools, place of work; length of engagement; method of payment; intent of the parties.

Applies to Public Agencies Applies to Public Agencies May Apply to Public Agencies Used by CalPERS

 

On January 6, 2021, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) updated its November 13, 2020 travel advisory concerning non-essential interstate travel and the quarantine period for individuals who engage in such travel.

The new CDPH guidance makes two important changes to its prior travel advisory including: (1) reducing the recommended self-quarantine period from 14 to 10 days for individuals who travel to California from other states and countries; and (2) expanding the scope of its recommendation against non-essential international and interstate to also include certain intrastate travel.

CDPH’s reduction of the recommended quarantine period for individuals who engage in interstate and international travel is consistent with December 2 guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the same subject. In that guidance, the CDC recommends that travelers reduce non-essential activities for 10 days following travel, consider getting tested for COVID-19 3-5 days after the trip and observe other COVID-19-related health and safety measures.

The CDPH guidance also expands the advisory against non-essential international and intrastate travel to include intrastate travel of more than 120 miles from the individual’s home or place of residence. Many local public health authorities now require that travelers from outside their county or region observe mandatory self-quarantines upon their arrival in the jurisdiction.

While the new CDPH guidance remains advisory in nature and therefore imposes no new requirements on employers concerning employee travel, employers should be familiar with the changes described above. Furthermore, employers should remember to follow all applicable local health orders, including those that may restrict non-essential international, interstate or intrastate travel or that require a mandatory quarantine period for individuals who engage in such travel.

If you have questions about this travel advisory and how it may affect your operations, LCW attorneys are available to answer your questions.

 

 

In March 2018, a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter alerted the City’s Department of Human Services (“Department”) that two of the foster care agencies with which it contracts – including Catholic Social Services (“CSS”) – refused to work with same-sex foster parents.  The Department promptly conducted an investigation and, upon confirming that CSS refused to work with same-sex foster parents in violation of the City’s anti-discrimination laws, stopped referring foster children to CSS.  CSS then sued under the free exercise, free speech, and establishment clauses of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, seeking an order requiring the City to renew its annual contract.  The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied the requested temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, and in a case titled Fulton v. City of Philadelphia (“Fulton”), the Third Circuit affirmed.

Relying on 30-year precedent set forth in Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith (“Smith”), the Third Circuit held in Fulton that the City did not treat CSS differently because of its religious beliefs.  Rather, the City acted to enforce a facially neutral and generally applicable non-discrimination policy which, under Smith, it is permitted to do.  And while certain comments may be found to suggest hostility toward religion and thereby belie arguments pertaining to neutrality and general applicability, the Third Circuit also cautioned that “[i]f all comment on religiously motivated conduct by those enforcing neutral, generally applicable laws against discrimination is construed as ill will against the religious belief itself, then Smith is a dead letter, and the nation’s civil rights laws might be as well.”  (Emphasis added.)  The Third Circuit’s fear may soon become reality.

CSS sought review of the Third Circuit’s decision, and the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari on January 24, 2020 and heard oral argument on November 4, 2020.  The Supreme Court’s ruling in Fulton could spell the end of Smith.

During oral argument, newly-appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett pointed out that CSS urged in its briefing that Smith should be overruled.  In response, CSS argued that Smith “has caused negative results” and “is a bad fit” in the context of the Court’s free exercise jurisprudence.  CSS urged that the rational basis standard set forth in Smith be replaced with a strict scrutiny standard.  So what would be the practical effect of CSS prevailing?

Simply put, it could herald a new free exercise jurisprudence era.  Under Smith, if a facially neutral and generally applicable public employer rule or policy incidentally burdens an employee’s free exercise of his or her religion, the rule or policy survives a legal challenge under the First Amendment’s free exercise clause if it is rationally related (i.e., has a logical connection) to a legitimate purpose.  However if, as CSS urges, the Court adopts a strict scrutiny test, the same rule or policy would survive a legal challenge if, and only if, it is the least restrictive means to accomplish a compelling interest – a much higher standard.  Public employers may then need to evaluate their policies to determine whether they need to be revised to reflect the least restrictive means to accomplish a compelling interest.

The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on Fulton.  In its opinion, the Court may choose to affirm Smith or may determine that Smith is inapplicable to the facts before it and, on that basis, not address it at all.  (It should be noted, however, that the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) both prohibit religious discrimination, and the analysis of FEHA and Title VII discrimination claims is different from the free exercise claims at issue in Fulton and Smith.)

On December 30, 2020, Governor Newsom issued a new framework for schools so that school districts can reopen or continue operating safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Governor’s “Safe Schools for All Plan”, is based on increasing scientific evidence that the correct precautions can stop the spread of COVID-19 in schools. The Governor and the Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) believe that it is important for student learning, as well as children’s mental health and social emotional needs for students to resume in person instruction.[1]

The Plan focuses on student and staff safety by bringing back the youngest students (TK-2)[2] and those disproportionately affected by the pandemic first. Qualifying school districts will phase-in other grades throughout the spring, as conditions allow.

California’s Safe Schools for All Plan relies on “four pillars”:

1)    Funding. The state has proposed a $2 billion budget for the safe reopening of public schools beginning in February. These funds will provide approximately $450 per student to school districts offering in-person instruction and will be weighted for districts serving students from low-income families, English learners and foster youth.

2)    Safety & Mitigation. To ensure health and safety in the classroom, the Plan focuses on the implementation of safety measures:

  • Testing. Frequent COVID-19 testing for all school staff and students, including weekly testing at schools in communities with high rates of transmission. For example, any public school can be on-boarded to the state-owned Valencia Branch Lab for PCR tests at one-third the market rate and the State will establish a hotline to help schools implement testing.
  • PPE. All staff and students in schools will be required to wear masks. The Plan recommends surgical masks for school staff, and the state will distribute millions of surgical masks to schools at no cost. The state has also enabled schools to leverage state-negotiated master contracts for PPE to reduce costs and streamline supply chains.
  • Contact Tracing. Schools will continue to be on-boarded onto the School Portal for Outbreak Tracking (SPOT) to improve collaboration between school and health officials, and members of the state contact-tracing workforce will be deployed to improve communication with schools.
  • Vaccinations. School staff will receive priority in the distribution of vaccines through the spring of 2021.

3)    Oversight & Assistance. The Safe Schools for All Team, a cross-agency team composed of dedicated staff from CDPH, Cal/OSHA, and educational agencies will provide support to help schools develop and implement their COVID-19 Safety Plans. These supports include school visits and walk-throughs as warranted, webinars and training materials, and ongoing technical assistance.

4)    Transparency & Accountability. A state dashboard will enable all Californians to see their school’s reopening status, level of available funding, and data on in-school transmissions. Additionally, there will be a web-based “hotline” for school staff and parents to report concerns to the Safe Schools for All Team. The Team will have the ability to provide escalating levels of intervention, starting with technical assistance and ending with legal enforcement.

The Governor’s plan requires legislative approval. Liebert Cassidy Whitmore will continue to monitor the state’s efforts to reopen schools and other changes regarding COVID-19 legal requirements and safety measures.

[1] Distance learning will still be available for parents and students who choose this option and for students with underlying conditions.

[2] CDPH asserts that this approach recognizes that younger children are at a lower risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19 when proper safety measures are in place.

During these unprecedented times, it is likely that employees may be utilizing various forms of protected leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and California Family Rights Act (CFRA).  Some employees may be tempted to work remotely during their leave, perhaps to catch up, to stay ahead, or to offset the amount of time they are drawing down on their paid leave accruals or on an unpaid leave status.  Supervisors may also feel inclined to communicate with employees on leave to keep them updated on work-related assignments, news, and events or to give them time-sensitive assignments.  Here are some general rules and guidance for employers to be aware of regarding communications with employees on a protected leave.

General Rules Regarding Interference

Both the FMLA and CFRA prohibit an employer from interfering with, restraining, or denying an employee’s right to use leave under either statute.  For example, if an employee is on FMLA or CFRA leave, the employer may not require the employee to answer e-mails or phone calls or attend meetings.  However, depending on the reason for leave, an employee may still be able to perform some work for the employer.  The employer should obtain the proper medical certification and document the arrangement and any parameters for working based on the employee’s medical note (which should only contain restrictions and/or potential accommodations that would allow the employee to perform the essential functions of his/her position).  On the other hand, if the medical certification requires the employee to be completely off work, the employer should adhere to that requirement.  In this situation, the employer should not allow, encourage, or permit the employee to engage in work and should limit communication to the employee, other than for purposes of administering the employee’s leave.

If an employee has remote access to his/her work e-mail account, an employer can still send and copy e-mails to that employee, but the employer should not expect that the employee actually reads and keeps up with all the work-related correspondence while on leave.  The employer should communicate to the employee that the employee is not expected to reply to any work-related e-mails while on leave.  Otherwise, the employer potentially risks interfering with the employee’s protected leave rights.  Of course, if an employee does not have access to his/her e-mail, the employer can send e-mails to him/her and simply expect a response upon the employee’s return.  There are limited exceptions and circumstances where an employer may make brief, reasonable contact limited to administrative inquiries about information such as the location of documents, the name of a password, quick status updates of matters, and passing along of institutional knowledge to new staff without committing interference.  (See, for example, Reilly v. Revlon, Inc. (S.D.N.Y. 2009) 620 F.Supp.2d 524, 537, holding that “[f]ielding occasional calls about one’s job while on leave is a professional courtesy that does not abrogate or interfere with the exercise of an employee’s FMLA rights.”)  Keep in mind, these are general exceptions.  Employers should only rely on them when necessary and with caution.  The particular circumstances of each situation will dictate what is permissible and practical.  Additionally, non-exempt employees on leave will need to be paid for all time spent conducting work on the employer’s behalf (even work they voluntarily perform).  This is not an issue, however, while the employee is utilizing paid leave although employers may have to designate the leave as work time instead of deducting the time from the employee’s paid leave accruals.

Intermittent and Reduced Leave Options

Given the rise in remote work arrangements, and the ease in which employees can work remotely right now, there may be situations where an employee can perform limited levels of work, while remaining on FMLA/CFRA leave.  Under both statutes, intermittent leave and reduced leave schedules could be viable options depending on the leave-qualifying reason(s).  For example, the employee may need such leave to attend planned medical treatments, for doctor visits, for recovery time, or for other covered purposes needed for the employee’s serious health condition or that of a covered family member.  To utilize intermittent and reduced leave schedules, there must be a documented medical need for leave, and the employer must be able to reasonably accommodate the intermittent leave or reduced leave schedule.  Employees needing such leave must also make a reasonable effort to schedule their leave so as not to disrupt the employer’s operations.  For example, an employee who is on an intermittent leave for scheduled medical treatments over a period of time should attempt to schedule their leave during a period when the employer can substitute other employees to fill the shift, or on days where designated meetings or events will not take place.  Also, if an employee takes leave intermittently or on a reduced leave schedule, only the amount of leave actually taken may be counted towards the 12 weeks of leave (or 26 weeks of military caregiver leave) to which an employee is entitled.

Additionally, there are special considerations for pregnant employees and parents bonding with a newborn, foster-placed, or adopted child.  Under the FMLA, for example, an employee may take leave to bond with the child within 12 months of the qualifying event, and such time must be a continuous block of leave, unless the employer agrees to allow intermittent leave.  The employee is entitled to take intermittent leave in two-week increments.  However, employers must grant a request for leave of less than two weeks’ duration on any two occasions and may grant requests for additional occasions of short-duration leave.  (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 11090, subd. (d).)  In addition, pregnant women are eligible for up to for four months of Pregnancy Disability Leave, which may be taken intermittently.  (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, § 11035.)

If an employer does approve an intermittent leave or a reduced leave schedule request, it should take steps and precautions to ensure the employee follows appropriate protocols, including: confirming and tracking the number of hours and days the employee is scheduled to work (especially for non-exempt employees); setting the duration of the intermittent and reduced leave schedule (consistent with medical certification); assessing whether the employee’s duties are consistent with such medical certification; and an ongoing management of the employee’s leave to ensure the intermittent and reduced leave schedule does not inadvertently become a permanent accommodation under the ADA and/or FEHA once the eligible leave entitlement period ends.

Conclusion

In summary, an employer should not assign any work to employees on FMLA/CFRA leave in order to avoid interference claims.  Necessary communications about work assignments should be brief, done sparingly, and not require the employee to travel to the workplace.  The employer may also send e-mails to employees, but should not expect employees on leave with remote access to respond prior to returning.  Intermittent or reduced leave schedules may be options for allowing the employee to continue to work and schedule their leave as reasonably as possible so as not to disrupt the employer’s operations.  In these situations, the employer should document the parameters of such assignments and ensure the employee understands the restrictions.  Non-exempt employees should also be paid for all work time to avoid wage and hour issues.

On December 16, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) updated existing guidance in order to address COVID-19 vaccinations.[1] In addition to discussing vaccinations in the context of equal employment opportunity (“EEO”) laws, the guidance also discusses the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (“FD&C Act”), a law outside of the EEOC’s jurisdiction that nevertheless provides a statutory basis to decline vaccination. While this law provides an additional basis by which an individual may decline a COVID-19 vaccination, it should not affect our prior analysis[2] concluding that it is permissible for an employer to require that employees be vaccinated for COVID-19 as a condition of employment.

The EEOC guidance refers to the FD&C Act, which provides individuals a right to refuse to be vaccinated when the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) approves a drug or vaccine for emergency use, rather than general use. This should not change our analysis or conclusion concerning the permissibility of a COVID-19 vaccine requirement. In that analysis, we assumed that certain employees would be exempt from a COVID-19 vaccine requirement because of either a qualified disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) or a sincerely held religious belief under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”)[3]. The FD&C Act expands the scope of employees who may decline a COVID-19 vaccine by providing individuals who do not have a qualified disability or a sincerely held religious belief a statutory basis to refuse vaccination, but it does not change any underlying analysis.

The purpose of this bulletin is to explain an individual’s entitlement to refuse a COVID-19 vaccination under the FD&C Act and how this entitlement interacts with an employer’s authority to require that employees be vaccinated. While the FD&C Act provides no entitlement to an accommodations process, this bulletin provides employers a framework by which to manage employees who elect to exercise their statutory right under the FD&C Act not to be vaccinated.

EEOC Guidance regarding the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorizations of COVID-19 Vaccines

While not a workplace EEO law or even a matter within the EEOC’s jurisdiction, the EEOC guidance refers to the FD&C Act and its statutory entitlement in the following manner:

Some COVID-19 vaccines may only be available to the public for the foreseeable future under [Emergency Use Authorization (“EUA”] granted by the FDA[4], which is different than approval under FDA vaccine licensure. The FDA has an obligation to:

[E]nsure that recipients of the vaccine under an EUA are informed, to the extent practicable under the applicable circumstances, that FDA has authorized the emergency use of the vaccine, of the known and potential benefits and risks, the extent to which such benefits and risks are unknown, that they have the option to accept or refuse the vaccine, and of any available alternatives to the product.

The FDA says that this information is typically conveyed in a patient fact sheet that is provided at the time of the vaccine administration…[5]

As the EEOC guidance mentioned, one of the statutory requirements for drugs approved under the EUA process is that the Secretary of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) ensure that recipients of the vaccine are informed “of the option to accept or refuse administration of the product, of the consequences, if any, of refusing administration of the product…”[6] In order to comply with this requirement, both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna provide the following language for their COVID-19 vaccines: “It is [the recipient’s] choice to receive or not receive the COVID-19 Vaccine. Should [the recipient] decide not to receive [the COVID-19 Vaccine], it will not change [the recipient’s] standard medical care.”

While there is a paucity of guidance concerning the operation of the specific statutory section in question, there is no evidence that the FD&C Act is intended to abridge either employers’ authority to establish the terms and conditions of their employees’ employment or their obligation to provide for the health and safety of its workplaces. Therefore, employers are more likely than not entitled to change the terms and conditions of employment in ways that may have consequences for individuals who elect not to be vaccinated, even if the individuals retain the right to decline vaccination.

Practical Implication for Refusing Vaccination and Potential Work-Related Consequences for Such Refusal

While the FD&C Act provides an additional basis upon which an individual may refuse a COVID-19 vaccine[7], it does not provide a process by which employers must accommodate employees who elect not to be vaccinated. Employers may still require that their employees be vaccinated for COVID-19, but should develop a process to account and provide for employees who exercise their rights under the FD&C Act. To avoid potential exposure to discrimination and/or retaliation claims by employees who have exercised their rights not to be vaccinated, employers should not terminate or take other adverse employment actions against employees who exercise their rights under the statute.

In order to reduce the likelihood of employees claims alleging that their employer took adverse employment actions against them for exercising their rights not to be vaccinated under the FD&C Act, employers should consider adopting and implementing an accommodations processes. . Under such a process, an employer should determine whether the unvaccinated employee constitutes a “direct threat” to the health and safety of the workplace. While the “direct threat” standard is an ADA concept, employers may nevertheless employ it in order to determine whether individuals who exercised their rights not to be vaccinated under either Title VII or the FD&C Act can be safely accommodated at work.

Under the ADA, the “direct threat” standard applies where an employee presents a “significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others.”[8] In order to assess whether an unvaccinated employee constitutes such a threat to employees in the workplace, the employer would need to conduct an individualized assessment of that threat by examining each of the following four (4) factors as they relate to the unvaccinated employee:

  • The duration of the risk posed by the unvaccinated employee;
  • The nature and severity of the potential harm posed by the unvaccinated employee;
  • The likelihood that the potential harm will occur as a result of the unvaccinated employee; and
  • The imminence of the potential harm that may result from the unvaccinated employee.

The EEOC guidance provides that if an employer determines that an unvaccinated employee poses a direct threat at the worksite, the employer may only exclude that employee from the workplace if the employer determines that there is no way to reasonably accommodate the employee at the workplace. An employer may be able to meet the burden by demonstrating that each of the risk factors establish that the threat of COVID-19 is greater now than ever before. However, an employer should not assume that the employee cannot be accommodated at the workplace. An employer should prepare to respond to requests by unvaccinated employees for employer-provided safety measures and equipment that will allow them to work safely at or from the employer’s workplace, including, but not limited to, personal protective equipment (“PPE”), including, for example, respirators[9]. Regardless, employers should be prepared to undertake an individualized threat assessment of each employee who elects not to be vaccinated under the FD&C Act and to defend their actions by demonstrating that they conducted such assessment for each employee.

However, if a direct threat cannot be reduced to an acceptable level through a workplace accommodation, the EEOC provides that employers may exclude employees from physically entering the workplace. In such circumstances, we recommend that employers adopt and implement a process under which they engage in a good faith attempt to accommodate such employees. This will reduce the employer’s potential exposure to claims arising from or related to the FD&C Act and provide a uniform and standard process by which employers can evaluate the accommodation requests of comparably situated employees.

For individuals who exercised their rights not to be vaccinated under the FD&C Act, employers may expressly provide that employees are not entitled to an ADA-compliant interactive process, but that the employer will nevertheless engage in a good faith process in order to attempt to accommodate such employees. Under such a framework, the employer need not provide accommodations that would impose an undue hardship on the employer or their operations, but should attempt to identify accommodations that will allow employees to continue to perform their essential job duties.

While telework may be a potential option for those employees whose job duties permit such remote work, it is not likely a reasonable option for the frontline service providers, including health care workers and safety employees, who will be among the first to qualify for receipt of a COVID-19 vaccination. For unvaccinated employees in these types of positions, the employer must consider the reasonableness of other accommodations, such as providing and requiring the use of PPE and/or respirators, if necessary[10] that may allow an employee to continue working at the employer’s workplace[11]. Employers may also consider other non-workplace accommodations including allowing the employee to use paid leave or potentially placing the employee on unpaid leave.

Conclusion

For employers who want to require that their employees receive a COVID-19 vaccination, Liebert Cassidy Whitmore recommends that they proceed accordingly and make only small adjustments to account for individuals who elect to exercise their right not to be vaccinated under the FD&C Act.

Employers may still require COVID-19 vaccinations, but must recognize that employees who are not protected under the ADA or Title VII also possess an additional statutory basis upon which to refuse to be vaccinated. If employees exercise this right, employers should consider the advice set forth in this bulletin in determining if and how such unvaccinated employees can safely continue to work in their particular workplace.

Mandatory vaccinations are a complicated and controversial topic and Liebert Cassidy Whitmore attorneys are available to assist employers that have any questions about this guidance.

 

[1] EEOC “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws” (“EEOC Guidance”), K.1.-9., https://www.eeoc.gov/wysk/what-you-should-know-about-covid-19-and-ada-rehabilitation-act-and-other-eeo-laws?utm_content=&utm_medium=email&utm_name=&utm_source=govdelivery&utm_term= (Last updated on December 16, 2020.)

[2] LCW created client-specific guidance concerning the permissibility of employer-mandated vaccinations. Please review the applicable guidance: (1) public agencies; (2) public schools; (3) community colleges; (4) independent schools; and (5) non-profits.

[3] The Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) is the state law that provides protections for individuals with qualified disabilities and individuals with sincerely held religious beliefs. Analysis of accommodations requirements under the FEHA largely mirrors that under the federal laws, including the ADA and Title VII, upon which the FEHA is modeled.

[4] Under the FD&C Act, the FDA may approve drugs under either a full and comprehensive licensure process, known as the Biologics License Application (“BLA”), or a more limited emergency process, known as the Emergency Use Authorization (“EUA”). In order to address both the immediacy of the present public health emergency caused by COVID-19 and the public’s concerns about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, the FDA developed a modified EUA process that incorporates some of the rigors of the BLA process. (See FDA “Emergency Use Authorization for Vaccines to Prevent COVID-19 – Guidance for Industry”, p. 4 https://www.fda.gov/media/142749/download (Last updated in October 2020) [requiring “at least one well-designed Phase 3 clinical trial that demonstrates the vaccine’s safety and efficacy in a clear and compelling way.”]) Nevertheless, COVID-19 vaccines approved under this process remain subject to the statutory requirements of the FD&C Act.

[5] EEOC “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws” (“EEOC Guidance”), K.4., https://www.eeoc.gov/wysk/what-you-should-know-about-covid-19-and-ada-rehabilitation-act-and-other-eeo-laws?utm_content=&utm_medium=email&utm_name=&utm_source=govdelivery&utm_term= (Last updated on December 16, 2020)(emphasis added.)

[6] 21 U.S.C. § 360bbb-3(e)(1)(A)(ii)(III), emphasis added.

[7] The statutory basis under the FD&C Act supplements those provided under the ADA for individuals with qualified disabilities and under Title VII for individuals with sincerely held religious beliefs.

[8] 29 C.F.R. § 1630(r).

[9] A respirator is a device which has met the requirements of 42 C.F.R. Part 84, has been designed to protect the wearer from inhalation of harmful atmospheres, and has been approved by National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (“NIOSH”) for the purpose for which it is used.

[10] See fn. 7.

[11] An employer should only provide these workplace accommodations if it determines that the employee would not pose a direct threat to the health and safety of the workplace with such accommodation and that the provision of such accommodations would not impose an undue hardship on the employer.

With the new year approaching, now is a good time to audit your agency’s compliance with sexual harassment training requirements.  Since 2005, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) has required employers to provide supervisory employees with training in preventing sexual harassment (sometimes called “AB 1825 harassment training”). Recently, the State Legislature has greatly expanded these training requirements. In 2016, AB 1661 was passed requiring sexual harassment training for elected or appointed public officials. Then in 2018, in the wake of the Me Too movement, the FEHA was amended so that it also required harassment training for nonsupervisory employees and seasonal/temporary employees hired to work less than six months (SB 1343/SB 778). Agencies must be in compliance with these new requirements by January 1, 2021.

By January 1, 2021, all public and private employers with more than 5 employees must ensure that supervisory employees have completed 2 hours of sexual harassment prevention training and nonsupervisory employees have completed 1 hour of sexual harassment prevention training.  Employees must complete this training every two years thereafter. Employees who completed this training in 2019 need not complete the training for another two years (2022). New employees must complete this training within 6 months of being hired or assuming a supervisory position. If a new employee has received sexual harassment prevention training within the past two years from a former, alternate, or joint employer, an agency can place the employee on a two-year tracking schedule from the date of the last training. However, if the training provided by the employee’s previous, alternate, or joint employer does not comply with FEHA requirements (in terms of training length or content), the agency may be liable for noncompliance.

The Department of Fair Employment of Housing defines a “supervisory” employee as “any individual having the authority, in the interest of the employer, to hire, transfer, suspend, lay off, recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward, or discipline other employees, or the responsibility to direct them, or to adjust their grievances, or effectively to recommend that action, if, in connection with the foregoing, the exercise of that authority is not of a merely routine or clerical nature, but requires the use of independent judgment.” (Cal. Gov. Code § 12926, subd. (t).) Under this definition, employees with any level of supervisory authority may be considered supervisory, regardless of their title.

Also beginning January 1, 2021, agencies must ensure that seasonal, temporary, or other employees that are hired to work for less than six months have completed sexual harassment prevention training. Seasonal, temporary, or other employees who are hired to work for less than six months must complete this training within 30 calendar days from the date of hire or first 100 hours worked, whichever is sooner. This means any current seasonal/temporary employees who have been employed for longer than 30 calendar days or worked more 100 hours must complete sexual harassment preventing training before the January 1, 2021 deadline. The required training is either one or two hours, depending on whether the seasonal/temporary employee is in a nonsupervisory or supervisory position, respectively.

In order to demonstrate compliance with the FEHA, agencies must keep documentation of the training it has provided its employees for a minimum of two years. The documentation should include the names of the employees trained, the date of training, the name(s) of the training provider(s), sign in sheets (if any), copies of all certificates of attendance or completion issued, and copies of all written or recorded materials that comprise the training.

Agencies can have employees complete the free online sexual harassment training provided by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (available at: https://www.dfeh.ca.gov/shpt/), available in one- or two-hour options for nonsupervisory and supervisory employees.

As mentioned above, agencies must also ensure that “local agency officials” receive two hours of sexual harassment training and education if the agency provides any type of compensation, salary, or stipend to the local agency official. (Cal. Gov. Code, § 53237.1.) A “local agency official” is “any member of a local agency (city, county, city and county, charter city, charter county, charter city and county, or special district) legislative body and any elected local agency official,” including appointed members of the governing board. (Cal. Gov. Code, § 53237.) Local agency officials must complete this training (sometimes called “AB 1661 harassment training”) within the first six months of taking office or commencement employment and every two years thereafter. (This requirement has been in place since 2017 and the January 1, 2021 deadline does not apply.)

Agencies must maintain for a period of five years records to demonstrate compliance that include (1) the dates that local agency officials satisfied sexual harassment training and education and (2) the entity that provided the training.

Before local agency officials assume a new position, agencies must provide a written recommendation on the training available to comply with this requirement. This training can be completed online and may consist of training courses or self-study materials with tests. The required training content of AB 1661 training generally tracks the FEHA training requirements. Agencies that develop their own trainings must consult with legal counsel regarding the sufficiency and accuracy of that proposed content. (Cal. Gov. Code, § 53237.1(c).)

Below is a chart summarizing the sexual harassment preventing training requirements for different employees.

Mandatory Sexual Harassment Training
Supervisory employees

Every two years;

Employees not trained in 2019 must meet January 1st deadline

Retain records for 2 years
Non-Supervisory employees

Every two years;

Employees not trained in 2019 must meet January 1st deadline

Temporary, seasonal employees

Within 30 days of hiring or 100 hours worked

(whichever is sooner);

Those employed for longer than 30 days or worked more than 100 hours must meet January 1st deadline

Board member Within 6 months of taking office and every two years thereafter Retain records for 5 years

 

This article was reviewed January 2021 and the information is up-to-date.

 

On December 14, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-84-20 (the “Order”), addressing a number of issues related to COVID-19 and the present public health emergency.

In this bulletin, we address several issues of significant importance to employers, including revisions to the quarantine period provided in the newly adopted Cal/OSHA regulation, the requirement that “emergency response workers” observe modified quarantine requirements, and the suspension of certain rules limiting the use of retired annuitants to “mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Revisions to Cal/OSHA Quarantine Period

The Order revises the regulatory provision requiring that employees quarantine for 14 days following “close contact” exposure[1], aligning the Cal/OSHA quarantine standard with that articulated in an updated California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) guidance released in conjunction with the Order.

Cal/OSHA previously required employers to exclude from the workplace any employee who had “close contact” exposure to someone with COVID-19 until the employee quarantined for 14 days following that contact.[2] That requirement, which took effect on November 30, almost immediately came into conflict with more permissive guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) on December 2 and by CDPH on December 7.

The Order suspends the more restrictive quarantine requirements adopted by Cal/OSHA, bringing the regulation into compliance with the updated December 14 CDPH guidance. As a result, following a “close contact” exposure, an employer must exclude employees from the workplace according to the following framework:

  • An employee may discontinue quarantine and report back to the workplace after the tenth day following “close contact” exposure, so long as the employee did not present any symptoms associated with COVID-19 during the quarantine period;
  • During a critical staffing shortage[3], certain employees, including health care workers, emergency response worker and certain social service workers[4], may discontinue quarantine and report back to the workplace after the seventh day following “close contact” exposure if: (1) the employee did not present any symptoms associated with COVID-19 during the quarantine period; (2) the employee received a PCR[5] COVID-19 test no earlier than the fifth day following the “close contact” exposure; and (3) that test produced a negative result.

The CDPH guidance further provides that all asymptomatic employees who discontinue the quarantine prior to 14 days must observe the following:

  • Adhere strictly to all recommended non-pharmaceutical interventions, including wearing face coverings and observing physical distancing; and
  • Self-monitor for symptoms associated with COVID-19, and if such symptoms occur, immediately self-isolate, contact the local health department or their health care provider, and seek testing.

Finally, the essential employees, described above, who return to the workplace after the seventh day following the “close contact” exposure must wear a surgical face mask while at work and should continue to use a face covering when outside the home through the 14th day after the “close contact” exposure.

Emergency Responders Now Covered by the Quarantine Guidance

A significant unanswered question related to the newly adopted Cal/OSHA regulations concerns whether the regulations cover safety employees, including police and firefighters, or whether such employees are exempt by virtue of the fact that they may be subject to the Cal/OSHA regulation related to aerosol transmissible diseases (“ATD”)[6].

While the Order does not directly address the general question concerning the scope of the Cal/OSHA regulations, it does clarify that “emergency response workers” are subject to the updated quarantine guidance and revised return to work criteria described above, and that these employees are not entirely exempt from the regulatory requirements because they are subject to the Cal/OSHA ATD regulation.[7]

While Cal/OSHA has still not provided specific guidance on the scope of its newly adopted regulation and whether it covers all safety employees, the Order and the updated CDPH guidance confirm that “emergency response workers” are, at a minimum, subject to a quarantine should they have a “close contact” exposure.

Suspension of Certain Limitations Regarding the Use Retired Annuitants

The Order also suspends certain limitations regarding the use of retired annuitants where the annuitant is or will be engaged in “mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.” This change will make it easier for employers to use retired annuitants during the present public health emergency.

Under Government Code section 21221, subsection (h), a governing body may temporarily appoint a CalPERS retired annuitant to a vacant position during either: (1) the recruitment for a permanent appointment in a position deemed by the governing body to require specialized skills; or (2) in an emergency to prevent stoppage of public business. However, the Government Code generally limits governing bodies in making such appointments by providing that the governing body may only appoint an individual to a position once and that the annuitant’s appointment cannot exceed 960 hours in a fiscal year.

The Order suspends the “reinstatement and work hour limitations… [including, in particular, the limitation that a retiree may only be appointed to a vacant position once]” set forth at Government Code section 21221, subsection (h), if the governing body determines the retired annuitant is or will be engaged in “mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.” While this term is not defined, and it is not clear whether the Order also suspends the requirement that retired annuitants be appointed to a vacant position “during recruitment for a permanent appointment”, the Order provides some additional discretion to employers to use retired annuitants who have specialized skills or whose services are needed in order to ensure the continuity of public business.

Liebert Cassidy Whitmore attorneys are available to assist employers that have any questions about the new Executive Order and CDPH COVID-19 Guidance or the related changes they entail.

 

[1] While Cal/OSHA uses the term “COVID-19 exposure”, the CDPH uses the term “close contact”. We elect to use “close contact” because it is more descriptive and less likely to be confused with potential COVID-19 exposures. Nevertheless, both terms – COVID-19 exposure and close contact exposure – mean being within six feet of a COVID-19 case for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or greater in any 24-hour period within or overlapping with the COVID-19 positive individual’s “infectious period.” The “infectious period” means the following time periods: (1) For persons who develop COVID-19 symptoms: from two (2) days before they first develop symptoms until 10 days after symptoms first appeared, and 24 hours have passed with no fever, without the use of fever-reducing medications, and symptoms have improved; or (2) For persons who test positive who never develop COVID-19 symptoms: from two (2) days before until ten days after the specimen for their first (1st) positive test for COVID-19 was collected.

[2] 8 C.C.R § 3205(c)(10).  Additionally, for public school districts, the CDPH had issued guidance specifically for all students, teachers, and staff with the same return to work criteria.  (https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/CDPH%20Document%20Library/COVID-19/Schools%20Reopening%20Recommendations.pdf)

[3] A “critical staffing shortage” exists when “there are not enough staff to provide safe patient care, essential critical infrastructure workers … ” See CDPH “COVID-19 Quarantine Guidance”, https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/COVID-19/COVID-19-Quarantine.aspx (Last updated on December 14, 2020.)

[4] Only social service workers who “work face to face with clients in the child welfare system or in assisted living facilities” are covered. See CDPH “COVID-19 Quarantine Guidance”, https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/COVID-19/COVID-19-Quarantine.aspx (Last updated on December 14, 2020.)

[5] PCR refers to polymerase chain reaction, which is the methodology that certain COVID-19 tests employ to identify the presence of the virus’s genetic material in a specimen. PCR tests are regarded as more accurate than alternative tests.

[6] 8 C.C.R. § 5199; See also 8 C.C.R. § 3205(a)(1)(A)(3) [exempting “employees when covered by [Title 8] section 5199.”

[7] The Cal/OSHA regulation exempts three (3) groups of employees from Title 8 of the California Code of Regulations Section 3205. (See 8 C.C.R. § 3205(a)(1)(A)-(C).) One of the three groups exempted are “employees when covered by [Title 8 CCR] section 5199.” (8 C.C.R. § 3205(a)(1)(C).) Section 5199 covers “[p]aramedic and emergency medical services including these services when provided by firefighters and other emergency responders.” ((8 C.C.R. § 5199(a)(1)(A)(8).) Section 5199 also covers to “[p]olice services, provided during transport or detention of persons reasonably anticipated to be cases or suspected cases of aerosol transmissible diseases; and police services provided in conjunction with health care or public health operations.” Thus, firefighters and police may, depending on the circumstances of the duties performed, be exempt from Section 3205 because they would be covered by Section 5199.