As 2021 ends and 2022 begins, COVID-19 continues to significantly impact all aspects of life, including the workplace. Paid sick leave (PSL) and workplace safety are once again at the forefront of the effects.
*Paid Sick Leave
For many California workers, the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated time away from work. Under state law at the time that the pandemic began, workers had only three days of paid sick leave available. Senate Bill 95 and federal tax credits expired on October 1st. SB 95 provided workers with two weeks of PSL if they were infected with the virus or needed to care for relatives or children who were infected.
A California Division of Occupational Safety and Health emergency rule, renewed December 16th, allowed some workers to be paid for 10 days if they become infected with or were exposed to the virus. However, this rule did not apply to leave to care for sick relatives or children. Also, coverage will not apply to any worker if their employer can show they were infected with the virus outside their employment.
As the Omicron variant surges, PSL becomes a hot issue once again as hundreds of thousands of workers remain unvaccinated. Legislators have posed the question of whether a person who chooses not to get vaccinated or boosted, should have two weeks of paid time off.
A dramatic surge of coronavirus infections has occurred throughout many of California’s larger business enterprises, including fast-food restaurants, supermarkets, meatpackers, and warehouses. This has drawn attention to California’s weak penalties for violations affecting worker safety.
Perhaps the most significant issue is that California’s version of OSHA, the state agency that monitors and regulates workplace safety, is severely understaffed as it has only one inspector per 103,000 workers. Further, understaffing results in the failure to inspect 80% of the worksites where workers complain of safety violations.
Senate Bill 606, mirrored after a federal law, allows inspectors to issue “enterprise-wide” citations to businesses who have a history or pattern of violations, even though their worksite has not been visited in person. Also, earlier regulations made an employer with multiple workplace violations subject to a citation for only a single violation.
Also, Cal/OSHA has favored negotiation with employers to remedy violations rather than the issuance of financial penalties. However, so far, this approach has failed to deter companies from flouting workplace safety rules, said Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), the bill’s author.
SB 606 requires CAL/OSHA to label employers as “egregious” when workers are hospitalized or killed because of a willful safety violation. The agency now stacks citations for each injured or affected worker with fines of up to $134,334 for each violation.
“You had large employers just ignoring the public health guidance on social distancing, masking, and other measures,” said Eduardo Martinez, legislative director of the California Labor Federation. “As a result, a lot of workers got sick and many of them died.”
SB 606 applies to all workplace safety scenarios rather than only those involving COVID-19.
If you believe that your rights as an employee have been violated, Moss Bollinger can help you protect and assert these valuable rights. The experienced and knowledgeable employment law attorneys at Moss Bollinger will help ensure that your rights as a California worker are protected if your employer has engaged in any illegal conduct under federal or California law. Contact Moss Bollinger today at 866-942-7974 or reach us online.