GETTING BACK TO BUSINESS: Preparing to Reopen the California Workplace
Posted May 12, 2020

At long last, California employers can begin preparations to return to "business as usual" -- or, at least, a modified version of it! While many business owners have been looking forward to reopening, doing so raises a myriad of concerns about how to do so safely and in a fully-compliant manner.

Below is an outline of some of the key issues employers should consider to provide the utmost protection to their employees, ensure legal compliance, and facilitate a smooth reopening process.

Review State and Local Orders

State and local orders are changing by the week, and sometimes by the day. It is critical to double-check the status of all applicable orders before opening and on an ongoing basis, to ensure full compliance with all relevant requirements and to provide full protection for the workplace. State and local resources include the following:

  • State of California: Governor Newsome has issued an order defining reopening procedures for various businesses. The State's order includes a requirement that businesses develop a specific plan for compliance with the order. Review the state's order regarding a phased return to business operations here.
  • Local Orders: Review local county orders for all counties in which your company does business. In Ventura County, for example, businesses must post their reopening plan in a location accessible to employees and members of the public, and must register their business here before they can reopen. Local county orders are available on the applicable county website, or find a summary of the various county orders here.

Prepare Your Physical Space

Before bringing employees back to work, prepare your physical space to ensure the safety and security of all employees. Examples of physical preparations include:

  • Schedule a deep clean of the workplace and maintaining ongoing sanitation of all common space
  • Evaluate the layout of your space to ensure the ability to maintain social distancing
  • Manage staggered use of common areas and equipment
  • Provide sanitation supplies for employee use
  • Keep all appropriate areas disinfected throughout the workday
  • Update postings regarding occupancy limitations, employee rights and benefits and employee resources
  • Consider new policies and procedures regarding deliveries, customer access, etc.
  • Obtain any necessary PPE (masks, gloves, etc.)
  • Post information regarding PPE and social distancing requirements at entrances for customers and guests
  • Designate a COVID-19 Safety Officer to monitor compliance with procedures, audit availability of supplies and address complaints

Reassemble Your Workforce

When the physical space is ready for the return of your employees, begin the process of reassembling your workforce. Provide notice to employees, discuss any issues impacting their return to work, and develop policies and procedures to ensure appropriate behavior. Examples include the following:

  • Consider which employees can and should return to work first
  • Consider state/local orders permitting certain employees to remain at home (over 65 years of age, pre-existing condition, immune-compromised, family member at risk in their home
  • Consider staggered schedules and locations
  • Make contact as early as possible with furloughed or laid off employees that you will bring back
  • Redistribute anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies and remind employees about complaint procedures.
  • Distribute workplace policies on safety and sanitation procedures
  • Train employees on safety and sanitation procedures and policies
  • Review status of benefits and advise employees of any changes
  • Consider temperature checks and/or "symptoms questionnaires"
  • Develop a plan of action for responding to employee exposure/diagnosis
  • Address FFCRA benefits and leave available to qualifying employees
  • Consider other leaves of absence and the benefits available during leaves
  • Be gentle with employees who are reluctant to return

Monitor Ongoing Behavior and New Concerns

When employees return, it is imperative to monitor ongoing behavior to ensure continued compliance with your carefully-crafted policies and procedures. The majority of employee complaints relate more to human behavior than to the employer's practices. Examples include:

  • Have employees acknowledge receipt of your policies
  • Audit and evaluate ongoing employee and third-party behavior to ensure compliance with these standards
  • Provide employees with names/titles/contact information of management personnel to whom they can complain or raise questions
  • Remember that complaints about safety and work conditions may be protected by the federal National Labor Relations Act as “concerted activity” and/or may form the basis of a retaliation complaint
  • Ensure ongoing compliance with safety and sanitation procedures
  • Strict disciplinary action for employees who do not comply
  • Consider cross-training employees in case of an outbreak


For additional information about COVID-19 compliance and protection, see the following resources:

  • State of California Guidance for Reopening: click here.
  • Local city and county orders: click here.
  • California Dept. of Fair Employment & Housing: click here.
  • EEOC guidance: click here.
  • CDC resources: click here and here.
  • Governor Newsom's Newsroom: click here.
  • EDD Coronavirus FAQs: here.

For a more detailed outline of reopening considerations, or to obtain legal assistance regarding reopening issues specific to your company, contact the employment attorneys at LightGabler.

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