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New County Health Orders on Employee Face Covering Requirements for Essential Businesses & Govt'

On April 17, several California counties announced the requirement for individuals to wear a face covering when they need to leave their home to work or obtain essential goods and services. This includes requiring employees who work for Essential Businesses and Government Functions to wear a face covering while at work in most settings.

As the requirements for each county vary, below are some general guidelines regarding the impact of these new requirements in the workplace (please refer to your individual county's health officer order for specific requirements):

  • Wear a face covering in any area when working with the public or in areas where the public may be present, even if there are no members of the public present at the time. The purpose is to avoid the spreading of respiratory droplets in areas where customers or the public may come at some point. Examples of such common areas include, but is not limited to, reception areas, counters, restrooms, service areas, and other spaces used to interact with the public, regardless of whether anyone from the public is present at the time. This also includes working in or walking through common areas such as hallways, stairways, elevators, and parking facilities, and in any room or enclosed area when other people are present.

  • Wear a face covering when others are nearby or when they are in areas that the public regularly visits, with the exception that a face covering is not needed while working in a private office as long as the public does not regularly visit the room, other coworkers are not regularly present, and only while others are not around.

  • Inform any customers, visitors, contractors, third parties or members of the public about the need to wear a face covering (except for children under the age of 12 and others who may specifically excepted), and take reasonable steps to prohibit any member of the public who is not wearing a face covering from entering the premise.

An acceptable “face covering” is generally a covering made of cloth, fabric, or other soft or permeable material, without holes, that covers the nose and mouth and surrounding areas of the lower face. Examples of face coverings include a scarf or bandana; a neck gaiter; a homemade covering made from a t-shirt, sweatshirt, or towel, held on with rubber bands or otherwise; or a non-medical grade mask.

Also, for counties which have adopted social distancing protocols, the existing requirements, such as maintaining at least six-foot social distancing from others, washing hands frequently, and covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or fabric, remain in effect.

For convenience, click here to access the current Health County Officer Orders for Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Sonoma counties. Violation of or failure to comply with the County Health Officer’s order is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both. (California Health and Safety Code § 120295, et seq.; Cal. Penal Code §§ 69, 148(a)(1)).

Exceptions to Order

In general, individuals who has trouble breathing, otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance, or has been advised by a medical professional not to wear a face covering may be exempted from this requirement.

Also, if wearing a face covering creates a safety hazard at work under established health and safety guidelines, employees may be exempt.

As a practical step, employers should carefully evaluate individual employee requests for exemption, as well as determine whether certain job classifications or work activities should be exempt from this requirement.

Additional Employer Considerations

In addition to carefully reviewing your county's specific requirements concerning face covering (if applicable), or in counties that have not yet adopted such requirements, employers should consider the following:

  • Post adequate signage to inform employees and members of the public of the new face covering requirements.

  • Determine whether employees should wear face covering in company vehicles at all times (whether they are driving alone or with others) to prevent the spreading of respiratory droplets inside the vehicle.

  • Require employees to wear face covering when working outside, with others, or in positions where they may have frequent interactions with the public.

  • Maintaining adequate supplies of non-N95 grade disposal face masks, or in cases of shortage, consider the use of washable cloth or fabric face covering and ensure they are cleaned regularly.

CDC Instructions on Wearing and Making Face Covering

A video showing how to make a face covering and additional information about how to wear and clean face coverings may be found at the website of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC currently  advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. 

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As we have pioneered a completely paperless law practice, Boucher Law's attorney and staff are ready to assist our clients in spite of the evolving COVID-19 situation. Our team is actively working with both public and private employers on issues related to COVID-19 in the workplace, and we stand ready to assist your organization in responding quickly and rapidly as the situation continues to evolve. Read our latest blog post here on how Boucher Law stands ready to partner and assist our clients on their critical legal and practical HR needs during this time. Our firm remains fully committed and accessible to our clients, especially during this difficult time with significant impact to business operations. We invite you to follow us on LinkedIn to receive any regular updates on workplace issues related to COVID-19. We will persevere and get through this together, and we are honored and privileged to serve the many organizations that have entrusted our team to be your HR-focused and HR-centric labor and employment law partner!

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