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Helping You Navigate Workplace Issues in California

Is Your Company Ready to Reopen? California Public Health Officials Issue Formal Guidance to Employers and Employees


California remains a major epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most businesses, even those in what are considered “essential” industries, continue to struggle with how they can safely reopen without putting their employees or customers at unnecessary risk. To facilitate this process, the California Department of Public Health recently released an “Employer Handbook for a Safe Reopening,” which outlines some of the procedures that businesses should follow. The handbook also reaffirms certain legal rights that employees should know about when dealing with COVID-related illnesses.

Six Things That Employers Must Do Now

The Department and Cal/OSHA have issued specific guidance for a number of key industries, which includes checklists that these businesses need to follow before safely reopening. There is also a common checklist for all facilities that includes six key requirements:

  1. The employer must perform a detailed risk assessment and create a COVID-19 prevention plan for each specific worksite that it operates.
  2. The employer must train all of its employees on how to help limit the spread of COVID-19; such training needs to include how to screen for symptoms and directing workers to stay home if they experience such symptoms.
  3. The employer must establish individual control measures and screenings for COVID-19.
  4. The employer must implement disinfection protocols.
  5. The employer must implement and enforce physical distancing (i.e., social distancing) guidelines.
  6. With certain limited exceptions, the employer must implement and enforce universal face covering policies.

Once again, these are general guidelines. State officials have announced additional requirements for specific industries, such as agriculture, childcare, and take-out restaurants.

Know Your Rights as an Employee

If you need time off from work because you, or someone in your family, have contracted COVID-19, you may be entitled to certain leave benefits under California law. As explained in the handbook, these rights include:

  • The California Family Rights Act provides up to 12-weeks of job-protected leave for employees who require inpatient care or continuing treatment for a “serious health condition,” which includes COVID-19. The Act also protects employees who need time off for a spouse, parent, or dependent child who requires similar care. You are eligible for CFRA leave if your company employs at least 50 people at a given job site, you have worked for the employer for at least one year, and you have worked a total of at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months.
  • Separately, you are entitled to paid sick leave in California. Leave accrues from the first day you work at a job at a rate of at least 1 hour for every 30 hours worked, which an employer may cap at 24 hours (or 3 days). In addition, Gov. Gavin Newsom previously issued an executive order requiring employers in the food sector with at least 500 workers to provide up to 80 hours of paid sick leave during the COVID-19 crisis. Federal law imposes similar paid sick leave requirements on businesses with less than 500 workers.

If you have additional questions or concerns about your legal rights during the COVID-19 pandemic as it relates to leave, please contact a qualified California employment law attorney right away.


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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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