On March 19, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home order for the entire state of California (with an exemption for essential workers) causing many public agencies, businesses, and schools to shut their doors. In an effort to reopen California’s economy, Governor Newsom announced a Resilience Roadmap setting out a four-stage plan that modifies the statewide stay-at-home order and gradually permits some non-essential businesses to resume operations. While many employers are eager to reopen and have their employees return to work, it is crucial to have a plan in place to address the different issues that may arise in having employees return to the worksite. Federal, state, and local officials are issuing new orders and guidance regularly, so the tips in this blog post may change as the applicable guidance and orders change. Employers should continue to monitor the applicable federal, state, city, and county guidelines to confirm whether their county is reopening at the same pace the Governor set for the state.

Assess the worksite and establish a plan

Employers should first assess their worksites to ensure that they are safe for employees to return to work. Employers should establish a written, worksite-specific COVID-19 prevention plan at every office location, perform a comprehensive risk assessment of all work areas, and designate a person at each office workspace to implement the plan. The California Department of Public Health and Cal/OSHA have issued industry guidance and industry checklists to help employers create and implement an individualized plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Employers should post their checklist in a place visible to employees and the public.

Part of the prevention plan should include deep cleaning of the worksite prior to having employees return and establishing disinfecting protocols that involve regular sanitation of the worksite, as well as an expectation that employees will regularly clean their own personal work areas and surfaces they touch. Employers should also implement physical distancing guidelines, which may include laying out markers to guide employees in staying six feet apart, discontinuing non-essential travel, and limiting in-person meetings.

Communicate with and train employees

It is important that employers communicate with employees on how they can protect themselves from COVID-19 and carefully consider how they will decide which employees should return to work. Employers should provide employees with reasonable advance notice of returning to work and should note which employees will stay home due to various reasons, such as for health-related or childcare reasons. Consider staggering work schedules where possible, especially for those in high-risk groups or those who may not feel comfortable returning to work at this time. Prior to reopening, employers should also train employees on the worksite’s prevention plan on how to limit the spread of COVID-19. Employees should be encouraged to use face coverings when they are in the vicinity of others, while at work, in offices, or in vehicles during work-related travel with others.

Establish a procedure for testing and checking for signs and symptoms

Employers should implement screening procedures for all employees at the beginning of their shift and before entering the workplace, which may include daily self-checks, temperature checks, masks, and symptom and exposure screening. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has helpful guides on how to test for signs and symptoms. If an employee is sick or experiences any COVID-19-related symptoms, the employee should notify their supervisor and stay home. Employees should not return to work until they have met the criteria to discontinue home isolation.

Other considerations

Employers should carefully examine plans to reopen their worksites as well as any plans that require non-essential employees to return to work.  They should also take into consideration the potential for increased exposure to workers’ compensation liability. Typically, under California’s workers’ compensation system, an employee must prove they were injured on the job in order to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. In response to COVID-19, Governor Newsom signed Executive Order N-62-20, which creates the rebuttable presumption that an employee’s COVID-19-related illness arose out of the course of employment for the purpose of awarding workers’ compensation benefits. Under this order, an employee is presumed to have contracted a COVID-19-related illness at work if they were diagnosed with COVID-19 or tested positive for it within 14 days after returning to their worksite during the period between March 19, 2019 and July 5, 2020. Overcoming this presumption may be difficult for employers because they will have the burden of proving that the employee contracted COVID-19 outside of the workplace.

Employers should also consider reducing personnel at worksites by permitting employees to continue (or begin) teleworking full-time or part-time, or implementing staggered or alternative work schedules to reduce the number of personnel in the workplace at any one time.

For those employees who are sick or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, employers should communicate sick leave options that may be available to employees, including but not limited to Emergency Paid Sick Leave, Emergency Family Medical Leave, FMLA/CFRA, local and state paid sick leave, and other employer-provided leaves.

This blog provides an overview of the steps employers should consider prior to having employees return to work. Each plan must be unique and tailored to each worksite. LCW assists public and non-profit employers in drafting tailored policies for reopening the workplace.