2021 and New Covid-19 Regulations for Employers

For those employers dreading Nov. 4 (the day after the election) for whatever reason, let me assure you that there are more challenges facing you come 2021.

Here are some previews of what the future holds.

Jan. 4, 2021, Jane returns from her Christmas vacation to work, which ran from Dec. 24 to Jan. 3. She’s coughing and seems out of breath. She also complains of a sore throat and a runny nose. Being aware that these are four common symptoms of COVID-19, you send her to get tested. She calls the next day, “Yeah, the test came back positive.”

You wish her the best and immediately call your business attorney. “What happens now?” you ask. Well, because of Assembly Bill 685, you, the employer, have some tasks in front of you.

First step -notify all of Jane’s co-workers who were on the premises at the same worksite as Jane that they could have been exposed.

You also have to give them “information regarding COVID-19-related benefits to which the employee may be entitled under applicable federal, state, or local laws, including, but not limited to, workers’ compensation, and options for exposed employees, including COVID-19-related leave, company sick leave, state-mandated leave, supplemental sick leave, or negotiated leave provisions, as well as anti-retaliation and anti-discrimination protections of the employee.”

Your notice to the employees must also include information “on the disinfection and safety plan that the employer plans to implement and complete per the guidelines of the federal Centers for Disease Control.”

Oh, and I almost forgot, you have to notify your employees within one (1) business day of when Jane called to confirm the COVID diagnosis. And you have to tell the employers of any subcontracted workers working at the site, so that they can tell their employees.

What happens if two other employees also test positive within 14 days of Jane’s diagnosis? Then you are considered the locus for what the California Department of Public Health deems a COVID-19 outbreak. Once that occurs, besides just notifying your employees and the employers of all subcontractors, you must also alert the local public health agency about the outbreak and all of the affected individuals.

Another new reality is that, under Senate Bill 1159, if an employee is “diagnosed with COVID-19 within 14 days after a day that the employee performed labor or services at the employee’s place of employment at the employer’s direction,” then the rebuttable presumption shall be “that the injury arose out of and in the course of the employment and is compensable …” In other words, if an employee contracts the coronavirus within 14 days of working at the employer’s site, then the presumption shall be that the employee was infected at work and thus eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

And, for those employers that have 500 or more employees nationwide, Assembly Bill 1867 creates a new category of paid sick leave separate from the already mandated sick leave. If an employee of such a covered operation cannot work because 1) the employee is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19, 2) the worker is advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine or self-isolate, or 3) the worker “is prohibited from working by the (employer) due to health concerns related to the potential transmission of COVID-19,” then that worker is entitled to supplemental paid sick leave.

Under this law (which became effective immediately upon signing by Gov. Gavin Newsom), a full-time employee is entitled to 80 hours’ paid sick leave if one of the three conditions discussed above applies. Less than full-time employees can also receive benefits, assuming they qualify under criteria spelled out in the legislation.

Clearly, COVID-19 brings with it additional responsibilities for most California employers. ©

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