Lawyers Answer Legal Questions About Covid-19 in the Workplace (Part 1)
As some of the COVID-19 restrictions are being eased, and more employees are returning to the workforce, our lawyers are being asked questions about employees’ rights and responsibilities while working during the pandemic.
In our previous article we discussed, in detail, whether an employer can require their workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. In this two part article our Long Beach lawyers answer questions about what employers can, can’t and must do to keep their employees (and customers) safe, while trying to keep their doors open.
But, keep in mind that, like everything else related to COVID-19, this is uncharted territory. So, the answers are not always clear cut – and the situation, and the laws and regulations in effect, are fluid and constantly changing.
Can an employer require workers to wear a mask?
The answer to this appears to be “yes.” Masks are considered Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and so an employer is within their rights to require employee participation in mandatory mask wearing. In fact, customers can also be required to wear masks and other PPE.
These requirements are based on current CDC, OSHA and EEOC guidance. So, the employer can set mask wearing rules and expectations at their discretion – as long as they are within the bounds of the law.
The only exception would be a proven religious reason for not wearing a mask, or accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act for persons with a proven medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that makes it unreasonable for the person to maintain a face covering.
At this time, no established religious ideology has been recognized as prohibiting the wearing of protective face masks. And, to establish a medical exception, the employee would have to provide medical documentation for a healthcare provider – which is unlikely in most circumstances.
Can an employer order employees NOT to wear masks?
No, generally, not at this time. Employers must follow the directives of local and state public health authorities, which currently call for the wearing of face masks.
Cal/OSHA has also created several COVID-19 related requirements, including having a site-specific written COVID-19 prevention program. At this point the new COVID emergency regulations do not mandate the wearing of masks at all times. However, if an employer does not allow employees to take sufficient steps to curb infection with Covid-19 in the workplace, the employer could be cited by OSHA or Cal/OSHA.
If I get Covid-19 can my employer tell my co-workers?
No. Employers are subject to privacy laws which prevent them from disclosing the details of a workers illness or disability with other employees. However, because of the the contagious nature of Covid-19, employers may send a notice to workers notifying them that a suspected or confirmed case has been reported – without naming the specific employee or employees.
CLICK HERE for Part 2 of This Article
Workers Rights – Covid-19
This intersection of employees’ personal rights, employers’ rights and responsibilities, public and personal safety laws, and working from home during the pandemic is complex and constantly changing.
Above all, our lawyers recommend open communication between employees and employers, so that both parties’ rights, responsibilities and expectations are clear. Employees who have any health or safety concerns regarding their workplace in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic – or anything else – are encouraged to file a report with Cal/OSHA as a first step, here: https://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/Complaint.htm
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