1. Can You Stay Open: The Governor’s Executive Order N-33-20 identifies16 critical infrastructure sectors that are to remain open and operating in the interest of security, economic security, public health and safety.
However, if your company does not operate in, or in support of, the16 critical infrastructure sectors, you may only stay open and operating to the extent that you or your employees may work remotely. Executive Order N-33-20 is a “Stay at Home” order.
There are also certain businesses that have specifically been ordered closed (or to operate differently) in various counties/cities in California, mostly those that serve as places of public gathering (restaurants, bars, clubs, gyms, etc.) Please refer to your local emergency ordinances.
2. What Are The 16 Critical Infrastructure Sectors:
- i. Chemical Sector
- ii. Commercial Facilities Sector (Office Buildings)
- iii. Communications Sector
- iv. Critical Manufacturing Sector
- v. Dams
- vi. Defense Industrial Sector
- vii. Emergency Services Sector
- viii. Energy Sector
- ix. Financial Services Sector
- x. Food & Agriculture Sector
- xi. Government Facilities Sector
- xii. Healthcare & Public Health Sector
- xiii. Information Technology Sector
- xiv. Nuclear Reactors, Materials & Waste Sector (thank goodness)
- xv. Transportation Systems Sector
- xvi. Water & Waste Water Sector
It is also clear from additional guidance that businesses in support of critical infrastructure are to remain open. A more detailed guidance can be found at https://a78.asmdc.org/press-releases/guidance-essential-critical-infrastructure-workers-under-governors-executive-order-n
3. Can Your Employees Come To Work If You Operate In A Critical Sector: The Executive Order expressly provides:
“I order that Californians working in these 16 critical infrastructure sectors may continue their work because of the importance of these sectors to Californians’ health and well-being.”
So yes, if you operate in one of those critical infrastructure sectors, or in support of one of those sectors, your employees may travel to and from work as normal, if in-person services are required. Many companies are having their legal counsel provide letters that their employees can carry with them in the event that they are stopped and questioned. Of course, if your company can operate through employees working remotely, even in a critical infrastructure sector, it is best practices that those employees do so.
4. Can You Force Your Critical Sector Employees to Come to Work Upon Threat of Termination or Other Sanction: That is a tricky question at best and depends upon the circumstances. But in general, it is best practices that you do not threaten sanctions. My best advice is to simply allow the employee to take furlough, sick leave (discussed below) or other available leave after consulting legal counsel or HR specialist. Under certain circumstances, the employee’s concerns may well be appropriate (including a known prior infection within the company, leave to care for a family member, or employee personal risk factors about which an employer really cannot inquire – like someone with risk factors at home).
5. Do You Need Additional Health Practice Policies For Company At- Work Operations: In my opinion – Absolutely!! Businesses should prepare an emergency COVID-19 policy in writing, to be distributed to, and signed by, all employees. This may be added as an Addendum to your employee handbook (as some projections have this issue lasting for some time). Once in place, it should be strictly enforced.
6. What Should COVID-19 Company Policies/Practices Require: The following are, in my opinion, best practices. However, the manner in which each and every business operates is different and companies should have a legal or professional HR review of their specific operations before employing any company policy.
- i. Practice Social Distancing at Work – Keep 6 feet apart; no conference room meetings (use e-mail, zoom, FaceTime, etc.); no break room gatherings; no unnecessary touching of surfaces, etc.
- ii. Exercise Good Hygiene – I know that sounds kinda silly, but it should be in the policy. Require the disinfecting of work stations before and after work (supply disinfectant if available). Possibly require hand washing (or sanitizer) before taking their post, both in
the morning and upon return from breaks and lunch; Possibly require disinfecting of all common surfaces they touch after they are done (e.g., phones, copy machines, coffee makers, etc.); If close contact is unavoidable, and if available, possibly require N-95 masks and disposable Nitrile gloves be worn (and provide them). And of course, immediate reporting of ANY illness with liberal “send home” policies and immediate notice if any employee is diagnosed with COVID-19.
iii. Work Remotely If Possible: All employees that can work remotely, should be required to work remotely. No non-essential business travel – even driving to a client/customer, nor business in-person meetings. If such in-person meetings or services are required, you may want to consider requiring the wearing of protective equipment described above, if available.
iv. Screen Before Granting Access To Your Business Premises: This is an interesting one (considering HIPPA) – but reasonably required in this public health and safety crisis and under emergency orders. Not only should you exclude ALL non-business related visitors as a matter of policy (no more mom visiting little Jonny at work), but also limit access to your business premises for everyone (employees and business visitors alike) unless passing some sort of screening (for each and every access – including after breaks and lunch). At minimum the screening should consist of a dated, time noted questionnaire. Three simple questions: (a) Do you have, or in the last 5 days had, any of (list COVID-19 symptoms); (b) Have you sought medical attention for coronavirus symptoms in the last 14 days, and if so, when, and has quarantine been recommended; and (c) in the last 5 days have you come into contact with anyone you know who has been having (list coronavirus) symptoms or diagnosed with COVID-19 (or similar questions). If any answer is yes, then access should be denied. If its a business where people work closely together, circumstances make it otherwise reasonable, and if available, pre-entry temporal temperature taking may well be something to consider before access is granted.
7. What If An Employee Is Diagnosed With COVID-19 At Your Business: This is highly dependent upon the nature, structure and operations of your business. But the short answer is that you should have a written policy in place, similar to your new operating practices (and again, possibly as part of your employee handbook), for such event, for your specific business.
For both the business and its employee there is some relief in the new emergency Federal sick leave rules and under State laws. The new rules include the Federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act, Federal tax credits for paid sick leave and family leave, and of course, California’s paid sick leave, all to the extent available. Your legal and HR professionals will know more about these programs and availability to you and your employees.
For the Company procedures, however, it is a different story. This is certainly a fact-based analysis, dependent upon your business circumstances. However, depending upon circumstances, and for both the health and safety of your employees, and to protect your potential liability and continued business operations, you may want to consider some of the following: (i) Inquire into and document all employee contact with the infected employee; (ii) possibly send close contact employees home for 5-6 days to ensure no further infection; (iii) shut down and commercially disinfect all areas in which the infected employee (and close contact employees) operated; (iv) if you are in an industry that supplies goods to the public, maybe disinfecting of all products that infected employee (and close contact employees) may have touched before shipment; and (iv) if the infection spreads throughout the Company, close or limit at-office operations for 5-14 days, depending upon professional public health recommendations. Again, your company legal/HR professionals can help with all of these policy decisions.
In closing, be safe, take care of yourself, your families, your friends and your employees, and please act socially responsible. It is no longer a matter of good moral character … its now critical for public health and safety.