As the pandemic appears to be subsiding many employers anticipate return to more  normal operations and staffing. However, the occupational health and safety landscape is not  returning to normal any time soon, if ever. It continues to challenge employers with an ever  evolving kaleidoscope of overlapping guidance, regulations and statutes issuing from federal,  state and local levels of executive, legislative, regulatory and health agency authorities. If not a  “perfect storm” for employers, this legal circumstance is certainly one of heavy winds and high  seas, adding the burdens of new compliance hazards to the other challenges of business  regeneration.  

Waves of hand wringing legal commentators have lately voiced appropriate concerns  about the myriad possible compliance issues resulting for employers and their need to be  vigilant. The more successful sister of vigilance, however, is preparation. For California  employers this would entail two basic steps:  

  1. The first is careful study of the Cal-OSHA emergency guidance issued December  1 as a supplement to its General Safety Orders. The 12 page main section is a compliance road map which incorporates much of the  prior many months of guidance from health agencies at all levels for addressing COVID-19 risks  in the workplace. Risk averse employers have already incorporated relevant aspects of this  regulation in their (required) Illness and Injury Prevention Program (IIPP) documents. This  initiative will also insulate them from potential penalties should Cal-OSHA happen by on a spot  investigation to check both working conditions and the status of the employer’s IIPP.


  2. An employer should frequently consult State of California and Los Angeles  County Public Health Department industry specific guidance (LADPH updated its guidance for  Restaurants, Wineries and Bars as recently as March 11, 2021).  

Once an employer has established protocols for compliance with the above guidance, it  will have a solid base line for dealing with one-off and vaccination related issues as they arise.  The former include, for example, such issues as (a) an age 65 employee refusing to comply with  longstanding job requirements to fill in temporary vacancies in other locations as they arise. The EEO has made it clear that no special treatment is due age 65 and older employees who express  COVID based fears of being at work solely on the basis that statistics indicate that older  employees are more vulnerable to the COVID virus. An employer which has established and  maintained appropriate COVID protective protocols in the workplace should not fear any age  discrimination threats in such a case; and (b) a veteran foreman who reports to work even though  he has COVID symptoms and/or has tested positive will be more easily disciplined if the  employer has established strong protocols against any such cavalier disregard for co-worker  safety.  

  1. Vaccination Issues. 40% of surveyed Americans have expressed reluctance to be  vaccinated. If a similar percentage of an employer’s employees have such reluctance it may not  matter that the law currently puts employers who require vaccinations for return to work on  fairly solid ground. Exceptions apply to this requirement for employees with relevant  disabilities, medical conditions or sincerely held religious beliefs. Even so, an employer may  want to consider face mask, distancing and other protocols to accommodate non-vaccinated  employees in order to regain a full complement of employees.  

4. Family First Coronavirus Relief Act Leaves. The availability of these leaves  expired on December 31, 2020, and employers are no longer required to honor them. However,  the new Congress extended an employer’s access to tax credits for voluntarily honoring such a  leave before March 31, 2021. As even this minor extension is expiring, absent further  Congressional action these paid leaves will no longer be available to employees.  

In summary, employers are well advised to establish a firm basis of compliance. From  this foundation it will be far easier to deal with however the vaccination winds blow and with  one-off issues as they arise. Consultation with counsel is always recommended in this area of  dense and evolving government action. 

Karl A. Schmidt

Karl A. Schmidt

Parker, Milliken, Clark, O'Hara & Samuelian, a Prof. Corp.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This