When Will California Let Employees Return To Work? Under What Conditions?

As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its 3rd month, California is beginning to explore when and how some businesses can reopen. The decisions Governor Newsom is reviewing included evaluating the number of cases, whether the case numbers are decreasing, the importance of the work, the ability to do the work with safety precautions, testing, tracing, the wearing of masks, and other factors.

ABC 10 recently reviewed some of these issues and provided a Q and A – primarily about employee concerns about going back to work before there’s a vaccine or before there are reliable treatments.

Q: What type of personal protective equipment and other measures should we expect from our employers? Employers should provide reasonable PPE but the type of PPE and the amount will depend on the type of business. Outdoor businesses may require different PPE than indoor businesses, for example. Professional service businesses have less close contact than restaurants and retail services.

Q: Can my Unemployment Insurance be cancelled if I refuse employment at a jobsite that I think is unsafe? Unless a worker has a valid reason, if the employer is permitted to open for business and the business does take reasonable steps (such as following California Department of Health guidelines) to ensure worker safety, then the worker does need to return to work.

An exception should apply for workers who are in a high-risk group due to their age or have one of the pre-existing conditions for developing a severe COVID-19 case such as diabetes or lung disease. In this case, the worker should try to obtain a statement from his/her doctors.

  1. How can employees who return to work express their safety concerns about COVID-19? Employees should be protected against employer retaliation if they raise concerns about workplace safety to a manager, a supervisor, or directly to the employer. This includes the right to express concerns if another worker contracts the disease. Employees should speak with an experienced employee rights lawyer for advice on whether the employer must inform employees that a co-worker has contracted COVID-19.

Q: What should workers know if a coworker has been sick, but management has said nothing?

Employers have to let their workers know of a positive coronavirus case to those who might have come in contact with the person during the day. Employees are generally entitled to know if their health is at risk, but they are not allowed to know who specifically tested positive for the disease.

The company might face penalties from the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) if the employer doesn’t inform other employees of known dangers.

The experienced employee rights lawyers at the California Law Offices of Stephen A. Danz and Associates, understand the rights employees have to safe workplace conditions including how COVID-19 affects their jobs. To discuss any employee rights claim or if you were disciplined or fired for asserting your rights, call us at 877-789-9707 or fill out our online contact form to schedule an appointment. Se habla espanol.