Sweeping closures of California businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic left millions of Californians unemployed. Now, as the curve of coronavirus cases has flattened and state officials have announced measures that will allow more businesses to reopen, Los Angeles employment lawyers have been receiving questions about what rights workers have in returning.
These include questions about what personal protective equipment employers are required to provide, what to do if they don’t feel safe returning and what to know if their employer retaliates for reporting unsafe conditions.
Safety First – COVID-19 Protection at Work
All California employers are required to provide a reasonably safe workplace. As outlined in Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers have a general duty to provide every worker with a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious harm.
Further, OSHA’s personal protective equipment (PPE) standards require the use of eye and face protection, gloves, and respirator protection “when job hazards warrant it.”
The question of whether an employer can reopen a workplace that is safe and the type of PPE equipment they should provide will depend largely on the type of industry. There is no one-solution-fits-all. For example, someone who works on a farm is going to have different PPE needs than someone employed at a grocery store.
If your employer reopens, but you do not feel comfortable returning, understand that you may lose both your job and access to unemployment benefits. This is only if your employer did what was reasonably expected to create a safe working environment OR you have a medical reason to assert your immunity is compromised and thus you are higher risk. For example, if you are undergoing chemotherapy, your doctor can write you a note indicating you should be quarantined or self-isolating.