California Governor Gavin Newsom announced on April 6 that he intends to reopen all businesses in California by June 15, 2021. In order for this to occur, however, the state must have enough vaccines to fully vaccinate all Californians ages 16 or older and have hospitalization rates stabilize or remain low.
If these criteria are met, then employers throughout the start will be free to reopen their businesses. Depending upon your situation as an employee, this can be good or bad news. Either way, there are several important things you should know as we get closer to getting things back to normal.
The State Mask Mandate Will Still Be in Effect
Although businesses will reopen, the state’s individual mask mandate will remain in effect. This means businesses can continue to require their employees and the general public to wear masks at all times.
Exemptions for wearing a mask include when someone is working in an office or room alone, when someone is actively eating or drinking, or when someone has a specific disability that could make wearing a mask dangerous.
Business Must Comply with All Cal/OSHA Requirements
In addition to standard Cal/OSHA requirements that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, employers are required to abide by temporary standards intended to prevent the spread of the virus. These include implementing social distancing policies, staggering work schedules, and modifying the workplace when appropriate.
The governor is also asking employers to continue compliance with all other local or state COVID-19-related requirements for reopening and maintaining a safe work environment.
Your Employer Can Require You to Return to the Office
A lot of people have become accustomed to working from home situations, but many of these arrangements may end when the state opens up for business again. Even if you have successfully performed your essential job duties while away from the office, your employer can require you to return to the office as a condition for continued employment. Exceptions may apply if you have a disability and require the work-from-home arrangement as a reasonable accommodation.
Employers Can Require Vaccination & Proof of Vaccination
Employers can make vaccination a requirement for new hires and continued employment. The Americans with Disability Act prevents employers from requiring medical examinations or information about an employee’s medical history, but getting a vaccine and providing proof of vaccination doesn’t fall within these parameters.
Reasonable Accommodation Must Be Provided before Termination Is Considered
If an employee can’t get the vaccine because of a disability, or because of sincerely held religious beliefs, then reasonable accommodation must be provided to them. Reasonable accommodation, in this case, can include a modified work schedule or duties that limit exposure to other people, as well as permanent work-from-home arrangements.
If providing such accommodation isn’t possible or would pose an undue hardship upon the employer, then the employer may be within their rights to terminate the unvaccinated employee.
All Other Employment Laws Remain in Effect
If your employer is allowing employees to choose between working from home or returning to the office, then all other laws regarding discrimination, overtime, sexual harassment, retaliation, and other common employment law issues still apply.
There is nothing about returning to work or continuing to work from home that fundamentally changes your rights as an employee. If you believe your employer is taking advantage of a confusing time to abuse you in the workplace, then you should immediately seek legal counsel.
At K2 Employment Law Group, we are staunch advocates for our clients. We only represent employees in disputes with their employers, so you can rely on us to deliver the legal support you need during this time.