So many aspects of daily life and doing business have changed during this global pandemic. If you have employees in California, it’s time for your injury and illness prevention plan (IIPP) to change, too.

By way of background, California Labor Code § 6401.7 requires that every employer have a written program that, among other things, identifies workplace hazards and trains employees on how to address them. It also requires that employers update their plans when new hazards emerge. Well, if you’ve seen the news in the last few months, you may have noticed that a new hazard has emerged. (Cue Jaws theme.)

In response to that new hazard, Cal/OSHA has issued Interim General Guidelines on Protecting Workers from COVID-19. The guidelines first discuss which employers must comply with Cal/OSHA’s more stringent Aerosol Transmissible Diseases Standard (California Code of Regulations, title 8, section 5199). Those apply to hospitals, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, certain labs, and other workplaces that are deemed particularly vulnerable. But every employer, regardless of whether they’re subject to those requirements, should have a section of their IIPP that addresses COVID-19 and includes the following items:

  • Actively encourage sick employees to stay home.
  • Immediately send employees sick employees home or to medical care.
  • Ensure that employees who are out ill with fever or acute respiratory symptoms do not return to work until they’ve:
    • Had no fever (without the use of fever-reducing drugs) and no acute respiratory illness symptoms for at least three days; and
    • It’s been at least 10 days since the symptoms first appeared.
  • Provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19 if required to by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
  • Ensure employees that return to work following an illness promptly report any recurrence of symptoms.
  • Encourage employees to telework from home when possible.
  • Practice physical distancing by by using video or telephonic meetings and maintaining a distance of at least six feet between persons at the workplace when possible.
  • Provide employees with cloth face covers or encourage employees to use their own face covers for use whenever employees may be in workplaces with other persons.
  • Avoid shared workspaces (desks, offices, and cubicles) and work items (phones, computers, other work tools, and equipment) when possible. If they must be shared, clean and disinfect shared workspaces and work items before and after use.
  • Establish procedures to routinely clean and disinfect commonly touched objects and surfaces such as elevator buttons, handrails, copy machines, faucets, and doorknobs.
  • If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19 infection:
    • Inform employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
    • Temporarily close the general area where the infected employee worked until cleaning is completed.
    • Conduct deep cleaning of the entire general area where the infected employee worked and may have been, including breakrooms, restrooms and travel areas, with a cleaning agent approved for use by the EPA against coronavirus. It should ideally be performed by a professional cleaning service. The person doing the cleaning should be equipped with proper PPE.
  • Advise employees to avoid non-essential travel if possible.

To protect employees in industries such as retail sales or service industries that have frequent contact with the public, employers should take the following additional steps:

  • Frequently clean and disinfect surfaces touched by the public such as credit card machines, touch screens, shopping carts and doors.
  • Protect cashiers and other workers who have frequent interaction with the public with engineering controls such as Plexiglas screens or other physical barriers, or spatial barriers of at least six feet, if feasible.
  • If exposures to the general public cannot be eliminated with engineering controls, require or encourage customers to wear face coverings, which are mandatory in some jurisdictions.
  • Schedule work to allow frequent hand washing by employees handling items (cash, credit cards, merchandise, etc.) touched by members of the public.  Executive Order N-51-20, for example, requires that employees working in food facilities be allowed to wash their hands every 30 minutes and additionally, as needed.
  • Enforce physical distancing by limiting the number of customers in retail space.
  • Ask customers to take precautions such as only touching items they intend to purchase, and provide hand sanitizer stations.
  • Provide workers handling items touched by the public with PPE (i.e., disposable gloves).

Of course, having a IIPP accomplishes little if employees are not aware of it. So employers are also expected to train workers in a language they readily understand on the following topics:

  • A general description of COVID-19, symptoms, when to seek medical attention, how to prevent its spread, and the employer’s procedures for preventing its spread at the workplace.
  • How an infected person can spread COVID-19 to others even if they are not sick.
  • How to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by using cloth face covers.
  • Cough and sneeze etiquette.
  • Washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, after interacting with other persons and after contacting shared surfaces or objects.
  • Avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoiding sharing personal items with co-workers (i.e., dishes, cups, utensils, towels.
  • Providing tissues, no-touch disposal trash cans and hand sanitizer for use by employees.
  • Safely using cleaners and disinfectants, which includes:
    • The hazards of the cleaners and disinfectants used at the worksite.
    • Wearing PPE (such as gloves).
    • Ensuring cleaners and disinfectants are used in a manner that does not endanger employees.

That’s a lot, I know. Fortunately these are just guidelines. They do not impose new legal requirements.

Want more information about when to reopen, how to bring back workers, managing leaves and accommodations, and protecting your workers and customers? Jenny H. Fuller, Brian McGinnis, and I conducted a free webinar on this topic on May 28, 2020 at 10 a.m. Pacific. You can view the slides or even access a recording here.