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COVID-19 News & Resources for Farm Employers

Bryan Little, Farm Employers Labor Service

Updated March 31, 2020

 

COVID-19 Updates:

COVID-19 Resources for Farm Employers:

Occupational Safety & Health Issues:

 

Wage & Hour, Leaves Issues: and UI/SDI/PFL

 

Discrimination & Employee Privacy Issues:

 

Shelter-in-Place/Shelter-at-Home related issues:

 

401(k)-related issues:

 

H-2A-Related Issues:

 

From FELS Group Legal Services Program partner law firm Barsamian & Moody: 

 

COVID-19 General Information:

Thousands of cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) have been detected in at least 47 countries, including the United States. What should you do do now to be ready should COVID-19 cause disruption of your workforce? There is no one-size-fits-all answer; but you should start now to consider how to handle the problems that may arise as a result of COVID-19 whether it reaches true epidemic status or if it continues to be a public health issue that causes nervousness among your workforce.

How does Coronavirus spread?  Coronavirus generally spreads between people within 6 feet of each other through respiratory secretions, especially coughing and sneezing. It is not currently known whether the virus can be transmitted by touching a surface with the virus on it.

What can you do now?  It is important for farm employers to maintain open lines of communication with their employees. Update contact information for employees if necessary and stay informed of the latest news. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also issued “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease.” The CDC recommends that employers begin implementing the following steps now:

  • Encourage employees with acute respiratory illnesses to stay home; be sure employees are aware of the availability of Paid Sick Leave as required by AB 1522 (2015) (see also FELS’ Fact Sheet: AB 1522 Paid Sick Leave Mandate) and job-protected leave under the California Family Rights and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act  (also see and that you are prepared to administer these leaves.
  • Keep in mind that more employees than normal may be unavailable to work because they are caring for other family members who are ill and try to plan for replacements if possible;
  • Make sure vendors and contractors whose employees come into your workplace are aware of issues surrounding COVID-19;
  • Separate sick employees if they begin to show symptoms;
  •  Emphasize cough and sneeze etiquette (covering coughs and sneezes) and hand hygiene (frequent handwashing for at least 20 seconds);
  •  Perform routine environmental cleaning, like wiping down surfaces, door knobs and handles, control handles and control panels, keyboards and mouses, light switches, and other surfaces frequently touched by employees;
  •  Advise employees like buyers and salespersons about the risks prior to travel to countries that have had a significant outbreak;
  •  Consider informing employees in the case of possible exposure in the workplace; maintain the confidentiality of the identity of any employee you know to be infected.

 

What plans should employers put in place?  The CDC also recommends that employers create response plans now in case an outbreak does occur in the United States. Employers should create response plans that would:

  • Reduce transmission among your workforce; 
  • Protect people at higher risk for adverse health complications;
  •  Maintain business operations; and,
  •  Minimize adverse effects on other entities in their supply chains.

 

Can you allow short-term telecommuting for some positions? Can you permit employees to work flexible schedules? Can you cancel some or all business travel? Have fewer in-person meetings? There is no single answer to these questions for every farm business.

Can employers require employees to undergo medical examinations?  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has recently released guidance, “Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” reminding that employers may not require medical examinations under the ADA unless the medical exam is job-related and consistent with business necessity. Whether a medical exam is job-related and consistent with business necessity depends upon the situation (e.g., what are the employee’s symptoms, where has the employee been, or how might the employee been exposed, etc.) and the latest CDC guidance on coronavirus.

What actions can employers take in the case of a pandemic?  If COVID-19 expands to epidemic or pandemic status, employers can send employees home if they show coronavirus-like symptoms at work. Furthermore, employers may ask employees if they are experiencing coronavirus-like symptoms as long as they are mindful of confidentiality obligations. Finally, if an employee returns from traveling during a pandemic, an employer may ask the employee whether they are returning from a location where that individual may have been exposed to the virus.

Obviously, this is an evolving issue. Employers who plan for it will be in a better position to deal with it if it becomes a crisis in the United States.

 

COVID-19 Major Milestones:

  • March 19: Gov. Newsom issued an executive order imposing a state-wide "stay-at-home" mandate to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  This unprecedented order applies to the entire state, including counties that had not yet issued "shelter-in-place" or "stay-at-home" orders.  Gov. Newsom's order cites "federal critical infrastructure" sectors neccessary to continuity of operations, exempting workers in those sectors from the "stay-at-home" order.  The production of food is one of the exempted sectors (See U.S. Department of Homeland Security Critical Security Infrastructure Administration's "Critical Infrastructure Sectors: Food and Agriculture"); workers involved in food production are specifically exempted from Gov. Newsom's order.
  • The State of California has consolidated resources on COVID-19 response at a single website with links to various agencies includng the Department of Public Health, the Employment Development Department, and the Franchise Tax Board: Coronivirus (COVID-19) in California.  
  • Comprehensive and Updated FAQs for Employers on the COVID-19 Coronavirus: updated daily, from national law firm Fisher Phillips.
  • Four additional counties (Lake, Mendocino, Napa and Yolo, and the City of Fresno) have issued shelter-in-place orders; Sutter County and Yolo County issued a joint shelter-at-home directiveSolano County issued an order limiting all gatherings if 6-foot distancing cannot be maintained.  Orange County amended it's previous order allowing businesses to continue operating without social distancing.
  • President Trump has signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), requiring employers of 500 or fewer to provide family and medical leave and paid sick leave, as well as providing tax credits to defray the cost of these mandates; you can read more here.
  • March 18: Updated ICE Statement on COVID-19: "To ensure the welfare and safety of the general public as well as officers and agents in light of th eongoing COVID-19 pandemic response, U.s. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will temporarily adjust its enforcement posture beginning today, March 18, 2020.  ICE's highest priorities are to promote life saving and public safety activities.  ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) will focus enforcement on public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds." 
  • Sonoma, San Benito, and Monterey Counties have issued shelter-in-place orders.
  • Six Bay Area counties (San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Contra Costa and Alameda, along with the City of Berkeley) adopted Shelter-In-Place orders  effective March 17; food production exempted; see "Order of the Health Officer of the County of Santa Clara" (the Bay Area County orders appear to be patterned after each other) in particular Section 10.f.ii and iii exempting grocery stores, farmers markets and farm stands and farming and livestock production.  On March 18, Santa Cruz County and inland counties like Fresno and Sacramento also adopted partial shelter-in-place orders, with uncertain impacts on food-related businesses. 
  • March 15: Gov. Newsom directed about 5 million Californians over the age of 65 to self-isolate to reduce their risk of COVID-19 exposure.

 

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