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  • Kevin Cleveland and Sydney Davenport

Navigating COVID-19 Protocols: A Comprehensive Employer Update

As we approach Fall 2023 and COVID-19 numbers begin to rise again, it's crucial for you, as employers, to remain vigilant and proactive in ensuring the health and safety of the workforce. Specifically, it’s important to remember that though the state of emergency relating to COVID ended earlier this year, the COVID-19 Prevention Non-Emergency Regulations, which mandate employers to safeguard workers from COVID-19-related hazards, are still currently active. Here are a few important reminders to help navigate this phase of the pandemic while maintaining a safe and compliant workplace.

1. Stay Updated with Current Guidelines: First and foremost, start by familiarizing yourself with the most up-to-date guidelines from reputable health organizations and government agencies. As the situation evolves, it's essential to adjust your protocols accordingly and to make sure to check these sites regularly. Here is a good place to start for California guidelines. For national guidelines, look here. 2. COVID Workplace Measures: Employers have the option to incorporate COVID-19 workplace protocols in their written Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) or another distinct document. It's mandatory for employers to uphold a robust written IIPP that recognizes COVID-19 as a workplace hazard, encompasses strategies to thwart on-site transmission, facilitates employee training, and outlines procedures for addressing COVID-19 cases (and additional measures discussed below). This legal mandate underscores employers' responsibility to furnish and sustain a safe work environment for employees, encompassing the prevention of COVID-19 exposure. 3. Masking and Face Coverings: Continue to follow state and local guidelines regarding masking and face coverings. If your workplace requires in-person presence, ensure that masking protocols are clear, and employees are consistently adhering to them. This could include making sure to provide disposable masks when or if you decide to require them during working hours, or while on the premises. If your business does not require masks, make sure to keep an eye on state and local mandates as COVID numbers rise this coming fall/winter as the CDPH and local county health departments may still use masking as a tool to reduce transmission rates. Additionally, employers should still make sure that disposable masks are available to employees or visitors who may choose to use them. 4. Vaccination Promotion: Promote COVID-19 and other vaccinations within your workforce if you so choose. This could be as simple as reminding employees to get their flu or COVID shot, or booster. You could also host an on-site vaccination clinic or provide resources to help employees find vaccination locations. 5. COVID Testing: Be aware that employers are obligated to provide free COVID-19 testing, ensuring it's accessible during employees' paid hours, regardless of vaccination status to employees who are exposed at work. This requirement extends to all employees who have had close contact within the workplace and aren't classified as returned cases. Also, “close contact” has been legally defined here. 6. Maintain Proper Ventilation: Regarding indoor premises, employers are responsible for assessing relevant California Department of Public Health recommendations and establishing practical strategies to avert transmission, enhancing filtration and ventilation as necessary. 7. Regular Sanitization and Hygiene: Encourage regular sanitization of workspaces and provide easy access to hand sanitizers. Remind employees about the importance of proper hand hygiene, such as hand washing and covering nose and mouth when sneezing. Make sure to regularly clean all frequently touched areas, such as surfaces, appliances, and shared office supplies. 8. Social Distancing Measures: Consider social distancing measures in common areas and workspaces, even though restrictions have eased. If need be, rearrange workstations and use signage to encourage physical distancing. This is a particularly important step in the event that there has been exposure in the workplace or if there is the potential of an outbreak. 9. Protocols for Symptomatic Employees: Reiterate the importance of employees staying home if they experience COVID-19 symptoms. Have clear guidelines for reporting symptoms and steps to take if an employee tests positive. 10. Flexible Work Arrangements: Though not required by law, recognize that employees may have diverse needs and concerns. Be open to flexible work arrangements, including hybrid or remote work models, when possible, to accommodate various situations and allow employees to continue working even if they have to quarantine or take care of someone who is in quarantine. Please make sure to review your company’s COVID-19 protocols as we head into the fall as it is likely that county health departments and Cal/OSHA may start enforcing the non-emergency COVID guidelines more stringently as infection rates begin to creep up again. Additionally, making sure that you’re doing a lot of the basics to help keep down COVID transmission not only shows you’re prioritizing the well-being of your employees but also helps make sure that your workforce can keep working throughout the flu and COVID season. Informational websites: https://www.dir.ca.gov/DIRNews/2023/2023-14.html https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/general/plans/2022-covid-19-workplace-safety-plan.pdf https://covid19.ca.gov/workers-and-businesses/

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