In this episode of The Workplace podcast, CalChamber Executive Vice President and General Counsel Erika Frank is joined by employment law experts Bianca Saad and Matthew Roberts to discuss the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) guidance, “Safe Reopening FAQs for Workers and Employers,” which addresses a number of workplace-related issues as employers and employees continue to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic.
The “Safe Reopening FAQs for Workers and Employers” guidance provides great information and addresses many of the questions that employers have been asking on the CalChamber Labor Law Helpline, Frank says. Agency guidance is continually updated as the circumstances around the COVID-19 crisis change, so employers should check the agency’s website for updates.
Information presented in this podcast is accurate as of August 21, 2020, the date it was recorded.
Roberts explains that the new DIR guidance addresses questions surrounding face coverings, and specifies that employers must provide face coverings to workers at no cost, even if workers wear those masks outside of work hours.
A specific type of face covering is not prescribed—all that is required is that any face covering covers the mouth and nose effectively, Roberts says.
Medical Checks, Reporting Time Pay
When it comes to medical and temperature checks, the DIR guidance states that if medical checks are done at the worksite before or at the beginning of a shift, employees must be compensated for that time as it constitutes “hours worked,” Saad explains.
“The idea being that obviously this is done at the request and therefore under the control of the employer, so that is going to fall under the ‘hours worked’ category that does require compensation,” Saad says.
If during a medical check an employee is found to have symptoms of COVID-19 and is sent home having worked less than half of their regularly scheduled shift, the employee must be paid for half of their scheduled day’s work, at no less than two hours and no more than four hours at their regular rate of pay, Saad tells Frank.
Returning to the Workplace
Some of the COVID-19 questions CalChamber HR experts are asked most frequently pertain to bringing remote workers back to the workplace, Frank says.
Roberts explains that employers can generally bring back remote workers as long as the employer is complying with state and local health and safety protocols.
Still, Roberts points out, employers should consider the health and safety implications of bringing back their workforce.
“If we’re bringing too many people back, can we really maintain the social distancing, can we really keep everything clean?” he asks.
Employees who are living with someone who is at risk for COVID-19 complications may be particularly worried about returning to the workplace since some public health orders advise that people who are in an at-risk category shelter in place.
Roberts recommends that employers be willing to be flexible with these employees and come up with solutions that work for both the employer and employee, such as agreeing to a flexible work schedule.
Waivers of Liability
Frank points out that in some places, people are being asked to to sign COVID-19 liability waivers. She asks Saad: can employers require that workers sign a waiver of liability in the event they contract COVID-19 in the workplace or to cover other labor violations, such as missing meal and rest periods?
“…the short answer is ‘no,’” Saad says.
Employees have certain basic rights, she says, and in California workers are entitled to workers’ compensation for injuries or illnesses contracted during employment and to a safe and healthy workplace. Importantly, these rights cannot be waived.
If an employer does make employees sign such a waiver, the waiver would be invalid, Saad emphasizes.
DIR’s “Safe Reopening FAQs for Workers and Employers” is available at https://www.dir.ca.gov/covid19/FAQs_COVID-19_Safe_Reopening.htm.
For a compilation of important COVID-19 workplace information, visit http://www.calchamber.com/coronavirus.