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Returning To Work In California? Here’s What Your Employer Must Do To Protect You From The Coronavirus.

Monique Bolsajian
Monique Bolsajian Graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara
Monique studied Global Studies and English Literature at UC Santa Barbara and is currently pursuing a career in public policy.
  • Image by:
    Malachi Witt from Pixabay
Two Men and a woman at a table working, Returning to work in California during coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

Since March 19th, California has adopted strict stay-at-home measures to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.


As of now, there are over 100,000 confirmed cases in the state.


California recently released a roadmap to lifting stay-at-home orders, dividing the state’s reopening into stages. 


The state as a whole has just entered Stage 2, where some businesses are able to reopen with additional safety measures in place. 


Businesses reopening in Stage 2 include “retail, related logistics and manufacturing, office workplaces, limited personal services, outdoor museums, child care, and essential businesses,” according to the state government.


The timeline of moving into Stage 3 will depend on how well employers and the public adhere to safety guidelines. 


Counties can individually request to move more quickly through the state’s reopening stages, depending on factors such as test positivity rate, hospital capacity, and additional safety measures in place. To see if your county has met the necessary criteria, use this link.


As of now, Orange County, Sacramento County, and San Diego County have met the criteria to move quickly through Stage 2. 


Los Angeles and San Francisco counties have yet to do so. 


As the curve flattens and stay-at-home orders are gradually lifted, many Californians are wondering what their return to work will look like. 


If you live in California and are worried about going back to working in person, here are some important things that your employer must do to protect you from the Coronavirus. 


Steps All Employers Should Take


Returning to work will look different based on your industry, work environment, the number of other employees you work with, and how many members of the public you interact with day-to-day. 


However, there is a series of guidelines that employers should follow regardless of industry. 


These guidelines include:


  • Following physical distancing guidelines
  • Training all employees on limiting the spread of the virus
  • Training all employees to recognize symptoms and to stay home if they have any
  • Ensuring workspaces are being disinfected thoroughly and often.


There are also detailed industry-specific guidelines that employers must follow. View a complete list of these guidelines here


The most important thing to do is to reach out to your employer to discuss the level of exposure you think you will have when you go back to work, as well as your employer’s plans for implementing these safety guidelines. 


If possible, reach out to them before your workplace resumes in-person services so that you can be prepared for what your return to work will look like. 


How Low-Risk Employees Should Be Protected


According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) national guidelines, low-risk employees are defined as those who do not frequently need to come within six feet of physical contact with the public to complete their job duties. 


These employees also do not need to come into contact with individuals who have tested positive for, or who are potentially infected with, the Coronavirus at their workplace. 


Employers with low-risk employees in California will need to follow the state’s minimum guidelines above, but will not need to provide additional Personal Protective Equipment or implement additional measures. 


The California Department of Public Health recommends wearing face masks when interacting with the public and individuals outside of your household to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus. Choosing to wear a face mask at work would provide additional protection for the people around you. 


Note that wearing a face mask does not mean you don’t need to follow physical distancing guidelines.


Rules about wearing face masks in public vary by county.


Employers should be sure to monitor data released on the CDC website to stay up-to-date with any new guidelines that may be released.


How Medium-Risk Employees Should Be Protected


Medium-risk employees are people whose jobs require them to frequently interact with the public within physical distances of six feet. These employees may interact with people who are not yet confirmed or thought to have the Coronavirus, but who could have contracted the virus.


Guidelines for these employees include:


  • Installing physical barriers at employee workspaces,
  • Providing face masks to both employees and the public,
  • Posting signs with safety measures in visible areas,
  • Limiting customer access to workspaces, 
  • Considering extending remote work if possible,
  • Ensuring that employees have access to health screenings and resources. 


Common Personal Protective Equipment for medium-risk employees might include face masks, gloves, or other protective outerwear such as gowns. Additional protective gear will vary depending on specific job duties.


How High-Risk Employees Should Be Protected


High-risk employees are employees who come into close and frequent contact with individuals known to have the Coronavirus, such as frontline healthcare and medical workers. 


Employers at healthcare facilities will need to put a large number of safety measures in place. These include:


  • Providing alcohol-based hand rubs with a minimum of 60% alcohol for decontamination,
  • Installing and maintaining air-handling systems,
  • Isolating COVID-19 patients, or grouping them together where isolation is not possible,
  • Providing additional training and education to limit the spread of the virus, and to ensure that employees immediately report symptoms,
  • Closely monitoring the physical and mental health and well-being of all employees.


High-risk employees should use the same Personal Protective Equipment that medium-risk employees are recommended to use. High-risk employees may also need respirators, goggles, and/or face shields depending on their specific role. 


Additional protective equipment, such as surgical gowns or aprons, may be required for high-risk workers in mortuary or laboratory settings. 


How Employees in Vulnerable Populations Should Be Protected


Employees who belong to vulnerable populations can be defined in two ways: 


  • Those who have underlying health conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, that would make them particularly vulnerable to the virus, 
  • Those who are 65 years of age or older. 


Employers should avoid designating their employees as belonging to vulnerable populations; employees should choose to do that themselves by referring to CDC guidelines.


Vulnerable employees might want to consider continuing their work remotely for as long as it is possible. 


Underlying medical conditions that put people at risk for the Coronavirus are often protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act. This means that if you return to work, you are entitled to ask your employer to make accommodations for you. 


These accommodations might look like a change to your job duties that would allow you to continue your work from home, or changing your work schedule to limit your exposure to other people.


Your employer may ask you for a note from your doctor explaining your medical condition and how it makes you vulnerable to the virus.


On the other hand, employers cannot stop you from returning to work if you are defined as a part of a vulnerable population.


Additional protections do not yet exist for employees who are 65 years of age or older. 


If you have designated yourself as a member of a vulnerable population due to a medical condition and your employer isn’t making reasonable accommodations, Court Buddy can help you find an attorney to assert your rights.


What to Do if Your Employer Isn’t Meeting These Guidelines


You have the right to protect your health and safety. 


If you don’t think your employer is meeting appropriate safety guidelines, try having a conversation with your employer. They might choose to make modifications after hearing your concerns.


If your employer does not address or fix the issues, you can file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 


You are also protected under law to refuse to partake in dangerous work if your situation meets the following requirements:


  • You have asked your employer to fix the safety issues and they have not done so,
  • You genuinely believe that completing your job tasks and duties would endanger your health and safety,
  • The danger is urgent and there isn’t time to file a complaint with OSHA. 


If you refuse to work for the above reasons, be sure to compile any documents that would show proof that your situation meets these requirements. One example might be the series of emails that you sent your employer asking them to address a safety issue. 


You are protected under law against retaliation from an employer for reporting any health or safety issues. Contact OSHA as soon as possible if your employer retaliates against you for filing a complaint or for refusing to work.


If your employer isn’t taking necessary precautions and you feel your health and safety is in danger, you may want to seek legal advice. Court Buddy can match you with an attorney who can help.


If you were recently laid off, or chose to quit your job due to unsafe working conditions, unemployment relief and resources are available.


Americans in most states are typically eligible to receive unemployment relief for 26 weeks. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, however, the CARES Act allows states to offer “13 additional weeks of federally funded Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Assistance (PEUC) benefits to people who exhaust their regular state benefits.” 


California has decided to extend these benefits by the full 13 weeks through the end of 2020. 


If you need more resources or information regarding unemployment relief or getting connected with an attorney, we can help -- visit Court Buddy’s Resource Directory for assistance, or contact us.


Legal Disclaimer

Court Buddy is here to connect you with an experienced and trusted lawyer who can help you at an affordable rate. The company assists with the management of your case and lawyer relationship. Your lawyer will assess your legal issue in a timely and confidential manner, explain why you need or do not need a lawyer, and only charge you for the legal services performed and associated out of pocket fees. This article is intended to convey general information and does not constitute legal advice.


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