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How New COVID-19 Laws Affect Employers in California

photo of a woman wearing a face mask to prevent covid-19

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If you’re an employer in California, take heed: there are new laws in place that require you to ramp up your COVID-19 efforts.

Issued in late November of last year, these new regulations have been in effect since January 1 and are applicable to all businesses with on-site staff. It’s possible you haven’t even heard about the new rules yet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be held accountable. Managers in retail, grocery, and hospitality settings will need to refresh their strategies keep up and avoid costly litigation. Below, we’ll walk you through the big ticket items and what they mean for your business. We’ll also provide tips on how to stay compliant with the new rules.

Think these changes are only relevant to California employers? Think again. Other states are expected to follow suit later this year.

What You Need to Do as a California Employer

You’re already familiar with existing COVID-19 regulations. These range from physical partitions, to social distancing, to allowing employees to take paid time off (PTO).

If you operate in California, the new laws mean you also have to:

  • Create and distribute a written COVID-19 prevention program. Among other things, this program must cover ways to identify and correct COVID hazards. It must also provide training and instruction on how to prevent the spread of COVID and should explain how the business will report on and keep records of COVID hazards and exposures.
  • Ask employees to report possible COVID-19 exposure, symptoms, and COVID-related workplace hazards without fear of reprisal.
  • Notify, within 1 business day, any workers who might have been exposed to COVID-19. When doing so, you must not reveal personal identifying information of the individual with COVID-19.

In addition to the above, employers must have return-to-work criteria in place as part of their prevention plan. These criteria define when it is safe for an employee to return to work after exposure.

What prompted the new laws?

California issued the new laws in response to surges in COVID-19 cases late last year. Risks for grocery store, hotel, and restaurant workers remain high; the new rules will help mitigate the risk. Even if you think you’ve got things under control, your business could face costly fines if you aren’t compliant

photo of a shopper wearing a face mask

The New COVID-19 Laws Require Accurate Records

These new laws mean you’ll need accurate records. You probably already keep some form of employee payroll, new hire, and training records, but the new laws require even more paperwork. Now, you need to make sure you keep records about workplace hazards, COVID-19 exposures, and new procedures. You need to be able to determine, at a moment’s notice, who might have been exposed to whom.

Unlike other kinds of records, shift assignments can vary greatly from day to day. Who Sally worked with yesterday might not be the same group of people she worked with today, for instance. Regardless, you need to be able to pull an accurate report for any given date or time period.

Not only is it crucial to keep accurate records, but you also need to have a system in place for communicating effectively. This means making sure that your employees read and understand your prevention program. It also means making sure you notify workers quickly when there’s been a possible exposure.

You need to be able to determine, at a moment's notice, who might have been exposed to whom, and you need to be able to act on that knowledge swiftly and effectively.

How to Keep Accurate Records and Stay Compliant

So, how do you stay compliant with the new COVID-19 laws in California? The most efficient and practical way to keep accurate records is by automating them with online software. If you’re still relying on sticky notes, three ring binders, and Excel spreadsheets to keep track of details, you’re leaving yourself wide open for mistakes. These days, a mistake could have huge consequences for your employees and your business.

With an online workforce management (WFM) solution, all of your records are in one place: the cloud. This mean’s they’re accessible to you at a moment’s notice from anywhere with an internet connection.

With the right software, you can do the following from a centralized dashboard on your computer or smart phone:

Education and Training

You must create and disseminate a written COVID-19 Prevention Program. Remember, this is now required. As part of your COVID-19 Prevention Program, you’ll have to keep your employees in the loop about proper procedures. This will likely include updated training about their new responsibilities in maintaining health and safety at the workplace.

With appropriate human resources tools, you can easily send your COVID-19 Prevention Program to your entire staff. TimeForge also allows you to collect acknowledgements from employees to confirm that they’ve read and understood what’s expected.

Hazard Reporting

You must enable your employees to report COVID-19 hazards. Your prevention plan should specify reporting options to your workers, so that they know how to come forward with information. This information is necessary in order to investigate hazards and protect your workforce.

With TimeForge, employees can use shift notes and team messaging features to report any COVID-related hazards they’ve spotted to management. Then, employers can use manager, staff and audit logs to record progress in addressing those hazards. Logs are searchable and can never be deleted or misplaced, so you can be sure they’re there in the event that you need them.

Hazard Investigation

You must keep accurate records of employee attendance for hazard investigation. The new laws require that you investigate workplace hazards and have procedures in place to address them. This means you need accurate and thorough records. It’s not enough to know when someone was scheduled to work, you also need exact times they were on-site, dates, and a list of employees also on shift during the exposure period.

An online time and attendance system can greatly reduce this new record keeping burden. With TimeForge, for example, you can easily generate a report with a list of employees who were at work during a certain time period.

Notifying Workers

You must notify employees about possible COVID-19 exposure. As noted above, this is now required by the new COVID-19 laws in California. You have 1 business day to notify employees and take appropriate action, such as excluding them from coming to work until they meet your return-to-work criteria. Remember, you’re required to protect the identity of the person with COVID, so your notification shouldn’t include any identifying details, such as their name.

If you use a workforce management solution like TimeForge, you can easily send messages, including SMS texts, to all or just some of your staff at once. This means that if there’s been a COVID exposure at your workplace, you can inform your entire staff right away. You don’t have to look up contact information for 15+ different people just to get the message out.

Correcting Hazards

You must identify, evaluate, and correct COVID-19 workplace hazards. As part of your COVID-19 Prevention Program, you must have protocols in place for dealing with workplace hazards. This includes conducting periodic inspections of the workplace and evaluating sites where transmission is likely to occur, such as employee congregation areas. Your records need to show that you’ve conducted these inspections and that you’ve taken appropriate steps to correct any issues you find.

Chances are, the new requirements will also make your opening and closing procedures more complex. With task management and team execution tools, you can stay on top of these requirements by creating mobile to-do lists and assigning them to your staff. For example, you might have a daily sanitation checklist or a weekly inspection checklist. Your staff can attach documents and images, which gives them another way to report anything that seems amiss. And progress is automatically saved in logs, so the information is all there should you ever need to prove that you’re in compliance.

California’s New COVID-19 Laws: The bottom line

The new COVID-19 laws may seem like a serious burden to California employers. Fortunately, there are easy ways to manage the extra workload. The right software will automate many of the record keeping tasks required, thereby freeing you up to focus on managing and supporting your team. From employee training to hazard correction, TimeForge can help you stay compliant and protect your bottom line.

For complete information and guidance on the new COVID-19 laws in California, check out this useful FAQ, which includes links to fact sheets and other resources. Laws can also vary by municipality and industry, so don’t forget to check out California’s industry specific guidance, as well.

To learn more about how TimeForge can help your business stay compliant with new COVID-19 laws, contact us today or sign up for a free demo. We would love to show you how our software can make your life easier and help keep your employees safe.

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