MS&A General Managing Partner Eric De Wames provides in-depth insight into what California employers need to know about COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created hardships for millions of Americans. Business owners face tremendous challenges to their bottom line, as well as employment practices and policies. When considering the impact of the pandemic, employers must first have a solid understanding of existing employment laws, predating the virus, to apply them to the new and evolving first-generation legal issues that COVID-19 presents.

Many employers struggle with what actions they must take for employees coming into the workplace and how to protect them. They must understand what steps they can or must implement while staying compliant with a long list of state and federal employment laws. For example, how can they apply CDC guidelines for the coronavirus without violating disability laws and similar rules?

We Wrote The Book For Employers On COVID-19

A key to staying compliant with employment laws during the COVID-19 era is making sure that risk managers and human resources professionals are continuously well-trained. Just because you are compliant today in the middle of the pandemic doesn’t necessarily mean you will be in two weeks due to changing rules and laws.

Our firm has written a 500-page guide for navigating these turbulent legal waters. It is a living document that is frequently updated to provide guidance for employers scrutinized by courts and enforcement agencies over these complex laws. Our guide is a dynamic resource for a legal environment facing rapid and radical change.

Employment Laws Created In Response To Or Impacted By COVID-19

Employers may feel overwhelmed by the number of laws and guidelines developed for or affected by the virus. These include:

  • Families First Coronavirus Response Act
  • Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act
  • Family and Medical Leave Act
  • California Family Rights Act
  • Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act
  • Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act
  • Americans with Disabilities Act
  • California Fair Employment Housing Act
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines

Health And Safety Concerns

One of the primary considerations and obligations for employers is providing a safe workplace for their employees. COVID-19 brings risks that jeopardize everyone’s well-being. Our guide can answer many questions, such as:

  • An employee has tested positive for COVID-19. What should we do?
  • If an employee tests positive and is sent home, should we take any health and safety precautions?
  • What steps can we take to help reduce the transmission of the virus?
  • Can we require an employee to notify us if they test positive, have been exposed, or show symptoms?
  • May an employee refuse to come to work over the fear of contracting the virus?
  • What should we do if an employee wants to wear a medical mask or respirator in the workplace?
  • If we allow employees to work remotely, do we need a written telework policy? What should it include?
  • Are workers entitled to a group health insurance plan, even if they’re not working?
  • Do group health insurance plans cover COVID-19 tests?
  • Do we have to pay exempt employees who aren’t working?
  • What’s the difference between a furlough, a layoff and a reduction in force?

Return-To-Work Considerations

As businesses begin to decide whether to reopen, recall or hire new workers, our guide answers many questions about how the workplace might be structured, including:

  • May we ask an employee to leave work if they show COVID-19 symptoms, even after stay-at-home orders are lifted?
  • Can an employee refuse to return after a stay-at-home order is lifted?
  • May older workers refuse to return to work if they feel unsafe?
  • May we prevent older workers and those with prior medical conditions from returning in order to protect them?
  • May we prevent managers from disclosing that a suspected case of COVID-19 exists in the workplace?
  • May we require people to work from the office if they are concerned about returning or prefer working remotely?
  • May we request full-time workers to return in a part-time capacity?
  • When workers return, should we take their temperatures even if it’s not required?
  • Should we collect other medical information from employees when taking their temperatures?
  • Should we pay for face coverings for employees?

Providing Answers During An Uncertain Time

California employers, just like everyone else, continue to grapple with the impacts of COVID-19. While no one knows when the emergency will end, we are dedicated to helping businesses adapt their employment practices and policies for this ever-changing situation.

Businesses must be flexible, innovative and willing to adapt to survive during this time. While many of the societal concerns over the virus will take time to be resolved, we have the experience and knowledge to help businesses meet their complex and evolving legal responsibilities.