New cough. The beginning of a fever. A note from your boss about a COVID case at work.
As the omicron spreads across California, workers become aware that they have been exposed and develop symptoms. What will happen next? There are rules that employers and workers must follow to keep workplaces safe and limit the spread of the virus.
Most California personal workers are subject to temporary state of emergency regulations set by the Department of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA. A subset of workers, including those in healthcare facilities, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and drug treatment centers, are protected by other workplace rules.
Here are answers to some questions Californians may have about their rights in the workplace during the pandemic.
Can I get time off to get tested?
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If you contracted COVID at work, your employer is generally required by California/OHSHA regulations to provide you with free testing at paid hours, unless you have recently recovered from COVID.
If you have been exposed outside of work, your employer is still required to provide you with free testing during paid time as long as it allows you to stay at work or return to work earlier in accordance with public health isolation and quarantine guidelines. , said Erika Monterroza, a spokeswoman for the state department of labor relations.
Symptomatic unvaccinated workers should be provided free of charge by their employer for testing within paid time, regardless of known exposure.
Can my boss force me to go to work if my workplace has a COVID outbreak?
If an outbreak occurs at work, employers are generally required to immediately make testing available to workers who may have been exposed, at no cost to workers. If you test positive, your employer must send you home with pay, and you must return to work only after following public health advice to end isolation.
If you get infected but don’t immediately test positive, whether you’re sent home from work or not depends on which category you fall under the state health department’s isolation and quarantine guidelines.
If there’s an outbreak but you haven’t been exposed — say, for example, you work in a different building than people who have COVID — Cal/OSHA’s workplace COVID rules don’t stop your boss from insisting you work in person Monterrosa said. .
During outbreaks, employers are required to offer enhanced testing.
Do you need a mask at work? Patrons? Who oversees compliance with the rules of camouflage?
Yes, workers must wear masks while working indoors in accordance with a statewide mask-wearing requirement that went into effect in mid-December.
There are some exceptions, such as for workers who are indoors on their own, workers with a health condition that prevents them from wearing a mask, and when workers are actively eating or drinking.
Employers have a responsibility to ensure that their employees comply with workplace wearing regulations. If an employer does not comply with mask-wearing rules, workers can file a complaint with Cal/OSHA online or call the agency’s COVID-19 employee center at 833-579-0927.
There are other ways for workers to address workplace safety issues, including the use of masks. Workers have the right to organize to raise a labor issue with their employer, said Steven Knight, executive director of Worksafe, the government’s labor protection organization.
“Anything you do to raise a labor issue with your employer along with other work colleagues is a protected activity under federal law,” Knight said, adding that it is safer for workers to raise issues collectively than alone.
The statewide mask mandate applies to all indoor public spaces, so shoppers entering stores or gyms, for example, must wear masks. Local law enforcement is responsible for enforcing wearing regulations for customers, Monterrosa said.
If I get COVID, will I get additional sick leave?
Individual employers may offer additional sick leave due to COVID. Some localities require companies to provide additional COVID sick leave, said Hanna Suisse, an attorney who advises employers on how to comply with COVID workplace rules. The City of Los Angeles, for example, is requiring major employers to provide additional sick leave.
But there is currently no statewide requirement for employers to offer additional sick leave for COVID.
There was a statewide requirement that companies with more than 25 employees offer up to 80 hours of additional sick leave related to COVID-19, but this expired in September 2021. Lawmakers and the Newsom administration are currently negotiating to bring back additional paid sick leave. leave for COVID with the goal of negotiating in the next few weeks.
Again, if you contract COVID from work-related exposure, your employer is required to send you home with pay. If your employer provides sick leave in excess of the three days required by law, they may require you to use those extra sick days while you are in quarantine or recovering.
However, you cannot be asked to use your three sick days to pay off vacation after you have been exposed to COVID at work. If you are not yet receiving disability or workers’ compensation for the time you were absent from your workplace exposure, your employer will usually pay you until you follow public health advice to return to work.
If you need to quarantine due to exposure to COVID or a case you are certain is not work related, you can use any sick leave you have. Also, your employer is not required to pay you during this time. However, you may be eligible for other benefits, such as disability insurance.
“Because omicron is spreading rapidly, it’s not always clear whether a worker was exposed to COVID on the job or outside of work,” said Mitch Steiger, senior associate at the California Federation of Labor. Workers may think they got it out of work when they actually got it at work, Steiger said, so workers may want to consider the possibility that their exposure was professional.
Worker advocates are quick to point out that public health guidance directing workers with COVID-positive to stay home for five days, while the state only requires employers to pay for three sick days, puts some workers in a stalemate.
“We are struggling to get through the pandemic without sick leave,” Knight said. “This needs to change and I don’t know what people can do other than call the governor.”
Can I get workers’ compensation if I get COVID at work?
Employees who believe they contracted COVID at work should file a workers’ compensation claim, Monterrosa said.
Workers’ Compensation covers things like medical care, temporary disability benefits if you lose wages due to COVID, and permanent disability benefits if you don’t fully recover.
According to Steiger, it is relatively easy for an employee to start the compensation process. Once an employee reports an occupational disease, the employer is required to give the employee a form to complete in order to begin the process. The Department of Industrial Relations has a manual for workers on how this process works.
Steiger warns that the process can be slow, so employees should start it as early as possible and also consider whether they should be paid for time off work under Cal/OSHA workplace COVID rules.
A California law passed in 2020 made it easier for first responders and healthcare workers, as well as workers in a workplace where a COVID outbreak occurred, to access workers’ compensation by creating a presumption that if those workers fall ill, it is due to exposure to work. The burden of proving that the disease did not occur at work lies with employers.
Can my employer change my job while I am sick with COVID or quarantined?
If you are in quarantine or contract COVID because you were exposed at work and you are not currently receiving disability or workers’ compensation benefits, your employer is required to keep your wages, benefits, seniority, job status, and all other employees. rights.
If you are quarantined or sick with COVID and your employer can prove it is not work related, your employer is not required to support your wages or benefits under California/OSHA covid regulations. However, you may be eligible for other benefits.
According to labor lawyer Ilana Moradi, employers should not deprive employees of incentives to report exposure to COVID.
If your boss fires you or retaliates against you for following public health guidelines after being infected or testing positive, your boss may be violating rules that require employers to ask employees to report symptoms of COVID-19 and possible close contact with them. employer without fear of retribution, Moradi said.