California Employers – Know Your COVID-19 Obligations

Employers in California have new reporting obligations related to employee COVID-19 cases under California legislation AB 685. The purpose of AB 685 is to allow the state to more closely track COVID-19 cases in the workplace.

The new law goes into effect for California employees on January 1, 2021 and requires employers to provide written notice to all employees who worked at their worksite during an infectious period who may have had exposure to the virus. It also enhances the reporting requirements to local health authorities in the event there is an outbreak of COVID-19 at your worksite.

Required Notice to Employees and Employee Representatives

Under the new notice requirement, employers in California are required to take action within one business day of a “potential exposure” based on a positive diagnosis of COVID-19 by someone at the worksite. The notice must be provided in writing to all employees and any subcontractors who were at the worksite during the infectious period and may have potentially been exposed to COVID-19.  Written notice should also be provided to any employee representatives such as union representatives or attorneys.

The notice can be delivered in person or distributed via email or text message if the employee is anticipated to see the notification within one business day. The notice should be both in English and any other language that is understood by the majority of your employees.

Notices should include information related to any COVID-19 related benefits such as workers’ compensation benefits, COVID leave of absence such as that provided under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), paid sick leave, etc. You should also include the company’s anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, and anti-retaliation policies. In addition, the notice should include details regarding the company’s protocols for disinfecting the worksite and the safety plan to prevent any further exposures per CDC guidelines.

 Required Reporting of a COVID-19 Outbreak at Your Worksite

If you have multiple COVID-19 positive cases at your worksite, you may be subject to new reporting requirements related to outbreaks at the worksite. Local public health authorities determine the number of positive COVID-19 cases are considered an outbreak. Upon learning of the outbreak, employers are required to report the required information to their local public health agency within 48 hours.

In the event of a COVID-19 related fatality, California employers are required to notify their local health department of the name, number, occupation, and worksite location of any employees who have died due to COVID-19 exposure.

Employers are encouraged to create an action plan for their company and worksites related to COVID-19. You should identify the risks of COVID-19 exposure at your worksite(s) and decide how you will act to prevent exposure (looking at things such as improved ventilation, providing personal protective equipment such as masks or face shields, requiring social distancing when possible, etc).

Controlling Your Workers’ Compensation Costs

Workers’ Compensation insurance is required for most employers in most states (all but Texas). While it’s a necessary cost of having employees, it’s one cost that can be controlled.

Many employers pay high premiums for workers’ compensation because they have too many claims open for long periods of time or because the company is not effectively controlling their workers’ compensation process. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are several ways an employer can work to control these workers’ compensation costs including creating and enforcing a safety program, properly managing any injuries that do occur on the job, and implementing a “Return to Work” program to get employees back to work as soon as possible following an injury. Continue reading

OSHA Final Rule: Electronic Reporting and the End of Blanket Post-Injury Drug Testing

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently published a final rule to “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses.”  The full text of the rule can be found here.  The rule requires electronic submission of work related injury data for some employers. In addition, the rule serves to prevent employers from illegally discriminating and/or retaliating against employees for reporting work related injuries and illnesses.  This means employers may no longer be able to use post-injury drug testing for all work related injuries. The new rule will be enforced beginning November 1, 2016.

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Dilemma: How Long to Hold a Job Open

Occasionally, employees want or need to be away from work after they question-685060_1280have used up all their accrued vacation, paid sick leave, and paid personal time off. For example, an employee may be out collecting Workers’ Compensation benefits for months, even a year or more. So, you need to let employees know the circumstances under which they may take unpaid leaves, how long you may hold a job open, and when employment terminates. Here’s an example of a dilemma an employer might face.

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What if an Employee is Injured Too Often?

I have a fairly good 48-year old employee who has a chronic problem with Workers’ Comp claims. This individual is constantly getting injured and missing a lot of work because of these injuries. I am afraid he is building up to a permanent disability claim.  Can I legally terminate him?aide-161214_1280

Dismissing an employee for filing Workers’ Comp claims is a violation of public policy.

Courts have established and upheld state statutes protecting employees from being dismissed from their jobs for filing Workers’ Comp claims. In addition, your employee may very well be protected from discrimination by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and similar state laws.

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Can an Employer Discipline Safety Violators?

I have employees who are literally accidents waiting to happen because they neverquestion-685060_1280 seem to think before they take action. We have way too many Workers’ Comp claims. However, our foremen and supervisors don’t seem to be able to solve this problem. Can we discipline – or even terminate – employees for
“no brainer” injuries? 

The answer to your question is “Yes” and “No.”

We’ll explain what we mean and elaborate on some points which may be helpful to you.

Disciplinary action should not result from an employee filing a Workers’ Comp claim or reporting a possible safety hazard. But disciplinary action typically may result when an employee knowingly and repeatedly ignores or violates a known company policy. The key word here is “known.”

How can you prove (if necessary) that your employee “knew” the policy, rule or procedure? Put your company policies and procedures in writing and have your employees sign an acknowledgement form that they received and read them.

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Employees Are Stressed? Here’s What to Do!

ache-19005_1280You have employees under stress at work. Maybe they aren’t handling their jobs satisfactorily.  Here’s what you can do:

First step: Don’t overreact.  Don’t make accusations and don’t threaten.

Second step:  If the employee’s stress is severe, get help for him or her from a professional counselor or a psychologist.

Third step: If the stress, and the resulting poor job performance, is caused by the employee’s personal (non-work) life, then back off.  Don’t try to be a father, mother, brother, sister, priest, minister, or psychiatrist to your employees.

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Workers’ Comp Fraud: Tips to Clip It

scissors-235211_1280Legitimate Workers’ Comp claims can cost your business big money.  Fraudulent claims can drive up your costs even more and for  years ahead.  What are the most likely ways employees can claim bogus Workers’ Comp?  Following are claims to give special attention to:

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Reducing Workers’ Compensation Costs

coins-97132_1280Workers’ Comp is an important safety net of protection which benefits both the worker who risks injury on the job and the employer who would otherwise face potentially crippling liability for workplace injuries.  The Workers’ Comp insurance system is intended to streamline claims, and take these issues out of the courts and into a no-fault context.

This helps workers get the cash flow they need to replace lost incomes right away.  At the same time it helps employers avoid a lawsuit which could bankrupt them, arising out of the serious injury or death of an employee due to a workplace accident.

That said, some employers may actually be paying more than necessary for Workers’ Compensation premiums because they don’t understand how premiums are set, and what they can do to help improve their ratings to lower premiums.

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Volunteers and Risks to Your Business When Injured

clock-239268_1280Warning to not-for-profit employers: Your volunteer workers could file a Workers’ Compensation claim against you.  (For-profit employers, read on.  This could cost you, too.)

If a volunteer gets hurt at your workplace, he or she might try to prove an employer-employee relationship exists.  If so, the volunteer has the right to file a Workers’ Comp claim.

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