Laying out a business’ obligations to protect employees amid COVID-19

Shoppers wait to check out at Ralphs Super Market in Castaic on Monday, March 16, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Employers and employees alike are facing unprecedented challenges amid the COVID-19 outbreak, raising several questions about policies, procedures and a company’s overall response. 

Some Santa Clarita Valley workers have expressed concerns over possible exposure to the virus within the workplace and have questioned what obligations their employers have, as well as themselves and their coworkers. 

The countywide safer-at-home order established a month ago, and recently extended through May 15, ordered that only essential businesses can remain open. As time has passed, government officials have clarified what these obligations look like for employees and employers. 

In the SCV, businesses must comply with orders established by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.  

Most recently, Public Health revised its safer-at-home orders and established new measures for essential businesses that went into effect at midnight April 15. In its business protocol, companies must implement several measures for the protection of both workers and customers. Any possible exemptions taken must also be explained. 

Protecting employees

Businesses should: 

  • Direct employees who can work from home to do so.
  • Tell workers who are sick to stay home.
  • Conduct symptom checks before employees enter the workplace.
  • Set workstations 6 feet away from each other.
  • Frequently disinfect the workplace, including break rooms and restrooms. 
  • Provide cloth face coverings and hand sanitizers. 
  • Allow for frequent breaks for handwashing. 
  • Provide copies of the protocol to all workers.

Preventing crowd gatherings and practicing social distancing 

Companies should: 

  • Limit the number of customers in a business at any one time.
  • Post an employee at the door to ensure the limit is not exceeded.
  • Place per-person limits on goods. 
  • Place signs outside the store as a reminder to maintain 6 feet apart.
  • And, instruct all workers to maintain a 6-foot distance from each other and customers.

Nationwide, the governing law for all workplaces and workers is the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The federal government recently released a guide specific to COVID-19, reflecting much of what Public Health officials have reiterated, such as maintaining good hygiene, asking sick workers to stay home and informing employees to keep a healthy distance. 

Local business leaders are doing their part in educating employers on law updates and benefits related to COVID-19, such as the SCV Economic Development Corp. 

“SCVEDC has held several webinars with employers to inform them of the local health status and readiness, which are available on our resource page scvedc.org/coronavirus,” SCVEDC President and CEO Holly Schroeder said via email. 

The business law firm Poole Shaffery & Koegle, LLP, has also created a COVID-19 webpage, pooleshaffery.com/covid-19-updates-information, with guidance on emergency paid sick leave and family and medical leave rights. 

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