Question: My employees have all been working remotely since March 2020.  I am now planning to reopen my office to the public.  What COVID-19 protocols do I need to follow?

Answer: As Monterey County continues to move into the less restrictive tiers, many businesses are making plans to have employees return to work in their offices.  Keeping up with the various local, state, and federal guidelines can be challenging.

On January 25, 2021, California ended its Limited Stay at Home Order and implemented the Blueprint for a Safer Economy.  Businesses preparing to reopen should visit California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy website (https://covid19.ca.gov/safer-economy/), which includes industry-specific guidance on developing a workplace COVID-19 prevention plan, employee training, and protocols regarding testing, cleaning, and maintaining physical distancing in the workplace.  However, employers should note that California may end the Blueprint in the upcoming months.

In an April 6, 2021 press release, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that if California stays on pace with its COVID-19 vaccine distribution and keeps hospitalizations low, the state will “fully reopen” on June 15, 2021, and the Blueprint for a Safer Economy will end.  The press release indicates that while businesses may then return to usual operations, they must still comply with Cal/OSHA requirements and “common-sense public health policies,” such as mandated masking and encouraging vaccinations.

The California Department of Health (CDPH) has also indicated that if the state reopens on June 15, businesses listed in the Blueprint for a Safer Economy can return to usual operations, provided they comply with statewide agency guidelines.

Employers should remember that they must continue to comply with the Cal/OSHA Emergency Temporary Standards (COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards – Fact Sheets, Model Written Program and Other Resources (ca.gov)) in their workplaces.  These standards include implementing a written COVID-19 Prevention Program addressing topics including procedures for screening employees, identifying COVID-19 hazards, physical distancing, wearing masks, responding to COVID-19 cases, and recordkeeping and reporting requirements.

Furthermore, as the economy is re-opening, businesses must continue to implement many of the same procedures for protecting employees that have been in place prior to vaccinations including providing face coverings and maintaining six feet of physical distancing.  Cal/OSHA suggests other steps an employer may use to mitigate COVID-19 hazards including encouraging remote working; staggering arrival, departure, and break times; encouraging frequent handwashing; and reducing the number of employees and visitors in an area.  Employers must also implement procedures to minimize the sharing of tools and equipment, including vehicles.

Pursuant to federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, employers must continue to conduct symptom and temperature screening or instruct employees how to self-screen at home.  Employers should still encourage workers who are sick or exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms to stay home.

It is important to note that even though increasing numbers of employees are receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, vaccinated employees must still follow an employer’s COVID-19 prevention measures.

At a local level, Monterey County continues to encourage the community to use masks, practice social distancing, and avoid crowds.  Monterey County requires businesses to adhere to state and local industry guidance for reducing the risks associated with COVID-19 and to have procedures in place to identify COVID-19 cases in the workplace, be ready to intervene quickly, and work with Monterey County Public Health to halt the spread of COVID-19.  Monterey County guidelines for businesses can be found at the following link: 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) – For Businesses | Monterey County, CA.