COVID-19 in the Workplace

COVID-19 (Cornoavirus) has shaken the U.S. and World economies. Many businesses are shutting down to stop the spread. This has raised important some important employment law issues. Here are a few frequently asked questions.

What is the best practice for employers regarding COVID-19?

The Department of Industrial Relations has made the following recommendations for employers

  • Actively encouraging sick employees to stay home
  • Sending employees with acute respiratory illness symptoms home immediately
  • Providing information and training to employees on:
    • Cough and sneeze etiquette
    • Hand hygiene
    • Avoiding close contact with sick persons
    • Avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
    • Avoiding sharing personal items with co-workers (i.e. dishes, cups, utensils, towels)
    • Providing tissues, no-touch disposal trash cans and hand sanitizer for use by employees
  • Performing routine environmental cleaning of shared workplace equipment and furniture (disinfection beyond routine cleaning is not recommended)
  • Advising employees to check CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices prior to travel.

If I come down with COVID-19, do I have to tell my employer? Can’t I just say I need to take sick time and leave it at that?

No. In California, it is a crime to knowingly go to work with COVID-19. Under Health & Safety Code section 120290, any person afflicted with a contagious disease who willfully exposes himself or herself, and any person who willfully exposes another person afflicted with a contagious disease in any public place is guilty of a misdemeanor except when such exposure is made in the process of moving an afflicted person in a manner least dangerous to the public.

Employees should not work, and employers should not require employees to work with COVID-19.

How long should I remain off work?

The Center for Disease Control has recommended that exposed individuals self-quarantine for 14 days. Therefore, please anticipate a 14-day absence, at minimum.

How am I going to get paid while on leave?

California employers are required to give employees sick leave. At a minimum, California law requires 24 hours (or 3 days) of paid sick leave per year for full-time employees. The exact amount of sick time allotted depends on the employer’s policies and how many hours have been used.

If sick time does not cover the full time off, employees may apply for State Disability Insurance (SDI). If you’re unable to work due to having or being exposed to COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional), you can file a Disability Insurance (DI) claim. DI provides short-term benefit payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages due to a non-work-related illness, injury, or pregnancy. Benefit amounts are approximately 60-70 percent of wages (depending on income) and range from $50-$1,300 a week.

What if my employer closes its doors?

If your employer has reduced your hours or shut down operations due to COVID-19, you can file an Unemployment Insurance (UI) claim. UI provides partial wage replacement benefit payments to workers who lose their job or have their hours reduced, through no fault of their own. Workers who are temporarily unemployed due to COVID-19 and expected to return to work with their employer within a few weeks are not required to actively seek work each week.

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Daniel Thompson is an employment lawyer with Davis & Wojcik APLC, a Southern California based law firm with offices located in Temecula and Hemet. He can be reached at (951) 652-9000.