In June, the Monterey County Health Department issued expanded Workplace Exposure Guidance on COVID-19. The guidance is available here.
In Monterey County, the guidance now specifically calls for employers to contact the Monterey County Health Department’s Communicable Disease Unit for Guidance as part of the protocol if an employee reports to the employer a COVID-19 diagnosis. The Guidance also says that “health department staff will verify the individual’s diagnosis and provide dates where the individual was potentially infectious.”
Employers should still be extremely cautious regarding the handling of an employee’s medical information, including a COVID-19 diagnosis. If possible, employers should get written permission from the employee before discussing the specifics of the case with the Health Department. While the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) privacy protections apply to medical providers and not employers, care should still be taken because of other privacy-protections provided to employees under the law.
The new Monterey County guidance does not include separate “essential” worker guidance clarifications as found in the CDC guidance. Specifically, the Monterey County guidance says that individuals who have had close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 should stay home until it has been at least 14 days since their last contact with the infectious individual. In contrast, the CDC guidelines for critical infrastructure advise that workers may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community. The CDC guidance on implementing safety practices for critical infrastructure workers who may have been exposed to COVID-19 is available here.
The CDC also published Interim Guidance for Agricultural Workers and Employers, available here.
Key Points from the CDC Agricultural Workers Guidance are below:
• Management in the agriculture industry should conduct work site assessments to identify coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) risks and infection prevention strategies to protect workers.
• Work site guidance for COVID-19 prevention and control should be taken into consideration in employer-furnished shared worker housing, transportation vehicles and work settings.
• Prevention practices should follow the hierarchy of controls, which includes using source control and a combination of engineering controls, administrative controls (especially proper sanitation, cleaning, and disinfection), and personal protective equipment.
• Grouping workers together into cohorts may reduce the spread of COVID-19 transmission in the workplace by minimizing the number of different individuals who come into close contact with each other over the course of a week, and may also reduce the number of workers quarantined because of exposure to the virus.
• Owners/operators should maximize opportunities to place farmworkers residing together in the same vehicles for transportation and in the same cohorts to limit exposure.
• Basic information and training about infection prevention should be provided to all farmworkers in languages they can understand.
• Agriculture work sites developing plans for continuing operations where COVID-19 is spreading among workers or in the surrounding community should work directly with appropriate state and local public health officials and occupational safety and health professionals.
COUNSEL TO MANAGEMENT:
Conflicting advice from multiple sources continues to be a problem for employers trying to respond responsibly to the COVID-19 pandemic and protect employees. The best practice is to have a plan in place before your Company has an employee diagnosed. If you have questions about COVID-19 compliance and what to do if an employee tests positive, contact The Saqui Law Group, a Division of Dowling Aaron Incorporated.