What to Know About Coronavirus and California Employment Law

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The novel coronavirus has demanded drastic lifestyle changes from the general population. For example, various states have mandated stay-at-home orders and shutdowns in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. As a result, public life, the economy, and employment opportunity have all been significantly affected. To keep up with these changes, federal and state governments have been cranking out new laws to accommodate their citizens. 

While necessary, these new, short-term laws may leave confusion in their wake. Below, our Walnut Creek employment lawyer discusses frequently asked questions about coronavirus and California employment law. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Coronavirus and California Employment Law

Who is an essential employee in California?/What is an essential business in California?

Essential businesses and their employees can continue business operations at this time. In California, a business is ‘essential’ if it belongs to one of these 16 critical infrastructure sectors:

  • Chemical sector
  • Commercial facilities sector
  • Communications sector
  • Critical manufacturing sector
  • Dams sector
  • Defense industrial base sector
  • Emergency service sector
  • Energy sector
  • Financial services sector
  • Food and agriculture sector
  • Government facilities sector
  • Healthcare and public health sector
  • Information technology sector
  • Nuclear reactors, materials, and waste sector
  • Transportation systems sector
  • Water and wastewater systems sector

For a full list of qualifying businesses, consult the State Public Health Officer’s official release

My work will remain open at this time. What must my employer do to protect me and customers/clients from COVID-19?

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 offers workers federal protections. However, most of these are general duties that do not explicitly address airborne illnesses, such as coronavirus. To make up for this lack, OSHA released guidelines to give employers some clarity on COVID-19. However, these guidelines are not legally binding.

The Cal/OSHA Aerosol Transmissible Diseases standard addresses airborne infectious diseases, like the novel coronavirus. However, this standard only applies to employees who work in healthcare facilities or occupations.

Can I use California paid sick leave if I get coronavirus?

Yes. If you still have all or some amount of paid sick leave available, then you can use it at this time. If applicable, you can also use other forms of paid leave at this time, such as vacation days.

In California, you can use paid sick leave when ill, when treating an existing condition, or for preventative care. Preventative care can include self-quarantine when potentially exposed to coronavirus. How much and when an employee takes paid sick leave is up to the employee and not the employer.

Employees also have protections under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act. For certain employees, paid sick leave is an option when:

  • An employee needs to quarantine or display symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a diagnosis. 
  • An employee needs to care for another individual who needs to quarantine.
  • An employee needs to care for a child who cannot go to school or a childcare provider due to reasons related to COVID-19.

Can I file for worker’s compensation if I get COVID-19 from my place of work?

Yes. You can apply for temporary disability benefits if you contract COVID-19 during the regular course of your work. These benefits begin when your doctor says you cannot carry out your usual work duties for more than three days or if you are admitted to overnight hospitalization. 

Can my employer ask me about my health or if I have COVID-19?

During a pandemic, the DFEH allows employers to ask:

  • If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19
  • If you have recently traveled to areas considered at high risk for COVID-19
  • If you have been recently exposed to COVID-19
  • If you have been absent from work for a medically-related reason

Under HIPAA, your employer cannot legally share your medical information without your written consent. However, your employer must warn other employees about potential exposure to COVID-19, but without revealing your identity or health status.

At the same time, employers can send employees home for displaying COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms. Additionally, recent EEOC guidelines allow employers to take an employee’s temperature to determine fever. However, an employer cannot send home employees who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19.

Can my employer fire me for contracting COVID-19?

No. California’s anti-discrimination laws may protect an employee with COVID-19 from this situation

My work will suspend business at its physical location for the time being. Do I have the right to work from home, if possible?

Employees generally do not reserve the right to telecommute for work. However, you may consider asking for this accommodation if it is possible for your occupation. 

Can my employer require that I work from home?

Employers generally have the right to dictate the terms of your employment, including your work location. This means that your employer can mandate a work from home determination due to a legitimate need. At the same time, your employer reserves the right to suspend business travel at this time.

I will now be telecommuting for work. What must my employer provide to accommodate this change?

California Labor Code Section 2802 requires businesses to pay for their own expenses. This might include things like cell phones, computers, or internet usage. If you incur expenses from setting up a home office due to a coronavirus workplace location change, then your employer may be required to reimburse you for certain of these costs.

Can I file for unemployment benefits if I lose work because of coronavirus?

Yes. Unemployment benefits are available to anyone who has lost their job or had their hours reduced for reasons related to COVID-19. Modifications to some of the typical requirements for qualification, or continued qualification, of these benefits may apply.

Have More Questions About Coronavirus and California Employment Law? Contact Our Walnut Creek Employment Lawyer

Our Walnut Creek employment lawyer prepared this list to help you better understand the law at this time. However, this list is far from exhaustive and thus may not address your specific situation. 

If you have more questions about coronavirus and California employment law, then please contact us today. We can discuss your concerns during a free consultation. 

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