North Bay employers worry about how to enforce new California rules that still require masks indoors
An about face by a state board after nine hours of turbulent debate may do little to give employers guidance on how to bring workers back into the workplace when a state mask mandate is removed June 15.
The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board board backed off of its decision earlier in the evening Thursday to OK new workplace standards
But when it learned doing so would leave older, more restrictive standards in play, it pivoted and adopted revised standards timed to be in place when Gov. Gavin Newsom lifts all mask and other restrictions in California on June 15. A committee was handed the task of creating other state mandates to go into effect after July.
“We’re going through all of this for just six weeks,” Spaulding, McCullough & Tansil employment law specialist Lisa Ann Hilario told the Business Journal on Friday. “This may lead some employers to not bring back their staffs until Aug. 1.
For now, companies will still need to have a COVID-19 safety plan in place, with policies that only allow vaccinated workers to remove their masks only if everyone in the room has received the shots.
“With this, we could have a ripple effect,” Hilario said. “Then, you’re pitting people against each other, and that leads to horrible morale.”
Employers will probably find it tough to meet the standards and avoid conflict among workers, because chances are they’ll have unvaccinated employees for various reasons. Some will decline the shot because of a disability, others have not had the opportunity to get one. Many have chosen not to, while a few cite religious beliefs.
“I have a client with 50 employees, and three are unvaccinated,” she said.
Herd immunity is the goal. Currently, the state reports about 38 million vaccines have been administered. In the meantime, company executives would need to ponder whether they want to risk losing good employees and even managers over these rules.
“This is why they’re punting this down the road,” she said.
Part of a perfect storm of events affecting the economy, the labor market is undergoing a massive shortage of workers.
“They’d better prepare to lose people. Are they really going to fire people over not getting vaccinated?” she said.
Current law states a company has the right to set its own vaccination policy. According to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, a company may require its employees get the vaccine so long as it doesn’t discriminate against one group.
Some employers are situated in a better standing than others.
Amy’s Kitchen spokeswoman Jennifer Tucci said the food service company stands at a 94% rate of vaccination among its employees, which will allow it to fare better when it defines how the administrative staff returns.
“We feel good about it,” she said.
The progressive Petaluma-based company set up a vaccination site on company grounds to reach as many of its more than 2,400 employees as possible.
“We have not made vaccinations mandatory for our employees, but we attribute a high vaccination rate to thorough internal education about vaccination safety and effectiveness and by making the vaccine as convenient as possible for our employees,” Chief People Officer Mike Resch told the Business Journal.
Getting vaccinated is still more popular than not.
Robert Half Employment Agency surveyed more than 2,800 U.S. workers this past spring to find out how they feel about returning to the office and to hear their concerns.
The recruitment firm discovered that 52% think employers should require staff to be vaccinated in order to work onsite. In addition, 53% of these workers said they prefer colleagues wear masks, with the same margin adding they’re uncomfortable sharing workstations.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to office re-entry plans. Each situation is unique and requires careful consideration,” said Sarah Cush, the staffing company’s jobs expert.
With a hard-hit membership still reeling over government shutdowns, the California Restaurant Association remains in opposition to the new rules and takes issue with mask-wearing despite full vaccination.
“The revised ETS continues to require face masks in the workplace in conflict with the governor’s re-opening of the state on June 15 and CDC guidance,” Senior Legislative Director Katie Hansen said. “Restaurant workers have done everything asked of them over the last 15 months, but they will struggle to support a policy that dramatically extends pandemic restrictions for them — especially when they don’t have wear a face mask as a customer dining inside a restaurant on their own time.”