On July 24, 2020, the California Department of Health (“CDPH”) issued guidelines entitled “COVID-19 Employer Playbook for Safe Reopening”. A week later, on July 31, the CDPH revised the 32-page Employer Playbook. You can find a link to the latest instructions here.

The stated purpose of the Employer Playbook is to help California employers plan and prepare for the reopening of their business and to support a safe, clean environment for employees and customers. A summary of the key provisions of the Employer Playbook is discussed below.

How to open securely

According to the CDPH, business decisions should be based on both the degree of disease transmission in the community and a company's willingness to protect the safety and health of its employees and customers. For this reason, the CDPH recommends that all employers should work with workers and unions to communicate important COVID-19 information effectively and implement (and update as necessary) a plan that:

  • Is specific to your workplace
  • Identifies all areas and work tasks with potential COVID-19 exposures
  • Includes control measures to eliminate or reduce such exposures
  • Maintains healthy business operations
  • Maintains a healthy work environment
  • Offers effective training for workers and
  • Encourages workers to contribute to an effective job plan

Before reopening, all facilities must:

  1. Conduct a detailed risk assessment and create a workplace-specific COVID-19 prevention plan
  2. Train employees to limit the spread of COVID-19, including symptom checking and when to stay at home
  3. Set up individual control measures and screenings
  4. Set up disinfection protocols
  5. Establish guidelines for physical distance
  6. Establish universal face covering requirements (with allowable exceptions) according to the CDPH guidelines

The Employer Playbook also includes industry-specific guidelines and checklists to help employers reopen their business.

Manage an outbreak and return to work

The CDPH provides employers (outside of healthcare and in residential areas) with guidelines for coping with a COVID-19 outbreak. If an employer detects a worker who has tested positive for COVID-19 or a worker who has symptoms, he should ensure that the worker does not stay at work and work with the local health department for isolation or instructions To follow quarantine and when it is appropriate for the worker to return to work. The guidelines encourage employers to offer flexible vacation arrangements that support the need for workers to be unemployed to protect others.

The Employer Playbook lists various measures that employers must take to prepare for the identification of COVID 19 outbreaks at their workplaces. Below is an optimized version of these promotions:

Measures to prepare for the identification of outbreaks

Appoint a coordinator for infection prevention in the workplace who implements COVID-19 infection prevention procedures and manages COVID-related problems among workers.
Make sure that the sick leave guidelines are generous and flexible enough to allow sick workers to stay home with no punishment, and make sure that workers are aware of such guidelines. If applicable, employers should also alert their workers to the following vacation entitlements: (1) paid vacation benefits under the Federal Act Response to the First Family Corona Virus for private employers with fewer than 500 workers; (2) paid sickness benefits for employers with 500 or more employees in the food sector in accordance with Executive Order N-51-20; and (3) up to 12 weeks of job-protected vacation under the California Family Rights Act.
Instruct workers to stay at home and report to the employer if they have symptoms of COVID-19 that have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are waiting for test results for COVID-19.
Work with your local health department to develop mechanisms to track suspicious and confirmed employee cases.
Identify the contact information for the local health office in the jurisdiction in which the workplace is located and notify the local health office if there is a known or suspected outbreak at the workplace.

The playbook also includes considerations for employers to report identified cases of COVID-19 to local health departments and workers.

In addition, various measures are listed that employers can take to prevent COVID-19 from spreading further in the workplace:

  1. Employers should contact the local health department develop a test strategy to determine who needs to be tested.
  2. If the tests are limited or not recommended, your local health office may recommend this alternative methods of controlling the outbreak, including, but not limited to, tracing all close contacts of confirmed cases and instructing them to quarantine or temporarily close the job and quarantine all workers.
  3. Employers should Share information with the local health department on confirmed COVID-19 caseworkers at work, including job titles, work areas, close contacts at work, date of onset of symptoms and shifts worked during the infection.
  4. establish if The employer, local health department, or both conduct interviews with the cases to determine their close contacts.
  5. In consultation with the local health department, laboratory staff confirmed by phone to determine when their symptoms started, the shifts they worked during their infection period, and to identify other workers with whom they had close contact during their infection period.
  6. A "close contact" is someone who spent 15 minutes or more within 6 feet a person with COVID-19 infection during the person's infection period, which includes at least 48 hours before the development of symptoms.
  7. Close contacts should be instructed Quarantine at home for 14 days from their last known contact with the worker with COVID-19 and should be tested for COVID-19.
  8. Use employment records to review shifts performed during the infection period and other workers who may have worked closely with them during that period.
  9. Close contacts should be at home Self-monitoring every day if you have symptoms of COVID 19 (e.g. fever, chills, chills, cough, difficulty breathing, sore throat, constipation or runny nose, tiredness, body or muscle pain, loss of taste or smell, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite).

These measures are generally in line with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, as the CDPH states, employers must review and follow local health department guidelines, which may differ from state and federal guidelines.

Return to work

The Employer Playbook contains a table with information from the CDC about when employees can return to work. Below is a simplified version of the chart that was last updated by the CDPH on July 24, 2020.

Labor force Minimum criteria for returning to work
Symptomatically positive
Workers with symptoms that have been confirmed in the laboratory to have COVID-19
At least 1 day (24 hours) has passed since the last fever, defined as the dissolution of the fever without the use of antipyretic drugs and Improvement in symptoms (e.g. cough, shortness of breath); andAt least 10 days have passed since the symptoms first appeared.
Asymptomatic positive
Workers who have never had symptoms and have been confirmed in the laboratory to have COVID-19
At least 10 days have passed since the date of their first positive COVID-19 test. If they develop symptoms, the criteria for laboratory-confirmed cases with symptoms apply.
Symptomatically negative Use the same criteria for returning to work as laboratory confirmed cases.
Asymptomatic negative
Workers who never had symptoms but who were tested and negative because of close contact with a laboratory-confirmed case patient
Workers should be quarantined at home for 14 days after the last known close contact with the case patient. Symptoms can also develop after a negative test within 14 days of exposure. Local health departments may allow workers to return to work earlier in a critical infrastructure industry.
Symptomatically untested
Workers who had symptoms of COVID-19 but were not tested
Tests are strongly recommended. If the worker cannot be tested, use the same return criteria as laboratory-confirmed cases.
Asymptomatic untested
Workers who have had close contact with a case patient confirmed in the laboratory at work, at home or in the community and have no symptoms.


Workers who refuse or cannot be tested after close contact with a case confirmed in the laboratory despite being recommended by the local health office or health care provider to perform tests and have no symptoms.

Workers should be quarantined at home for 14 days after the last known close contact with the case patient. Tests are strongly recommended. If no tests have been performed, the local health authority may consider enabling such an employee to work in a critical infrastructure sector under certain conditions.

Workers who develop symptoms of COVID-19 in quarantine should contact their doctor. Even if they are not tested, the same return criteria as laboratory-confirmed cases should be used.

It is important to note that the CDPH qualifies this table by indicating that employers should contact their local health department and the latest CDC guidelines on the subject. This is particularly important. It should be noted that the CDC has revised its standards if a person can break isolation several times during the pandemic.

Rules and guidelines for reporting and disclosure of COVID-19

The CDPH Employer Playbook provides employers with information about when COVID-19 cases need to be recorded and reported to Cal / OSHA. As described by the CDPH, COVID-19 disease can meet the definition of a serious illness that should be reported immediately.

The playbook emphasizes that employers who identify a worker who has tested positive for COVID-19 or a worker who has symptoms should ensure that the worker does not stay at work. It also provides general guidance on what information to provide to employees who have tested positive for COVID-19. Much of the guidelines reflect the guidelines of the CDC and the local health ministry. Significantly, employers are not allowed to identify the name of an infected worker in the workplace to ensure compliance with data protection laws. The CDPH contains a communication draft that employers can send to their employees:

(Employer) learned that an employee at the (office location) tested positive for COVID-19. The worker received test results on (date). This email is to inform you that you may have been exposed to the novel virus. You should contact your local health office for information and possible measures based on individual circumstances or if you develop symptoms of COVID-19.

Because this language is provided directly by the CDPH, California employers may prefer to use such a language or a substantially similar language for future communication with their employees.

Protected vacation, unemployment benefits and employee compensation

The Employer Playbook highlights that employees may be eligible for COVID-19 benefits under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), paid sick leave, additional paid sick leave for COVID-19 in California under Executive Order N-51-20, Families First have Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and local laws on paid sick leave. It also highlights the potential applicability of regular and pandemic unemployment benefits and employee compensation benefits to workers affected by COVID-19.

Bring away

The CDPH's COVID-19 Employer Playbook for Safe Reopening is a great resource for employers to gain a thorough understanding of some of the problems that California employers face during the COVID-19 pandemic. For those who have followed developments in this area closely, there is little new information in the playbook. However, it summarizes information from several different sources, combines information in a single resource and offers many helpful links.

For a more in-depth analysis of the various legal issues facing employers in the COVID 19 pandemic, see Castle Publications. Employer's Guide to COVID-19 and Emerging Workplace problems. The publication is available electronically and is updated regularly to take into account new laws, regulations, orders and other developments.

As you know, things change quickly and there is a lack of clear authority or clear rules for implementation. This article is not intended to be a clear, unified guide, but represents our interpretation of the current and general state of affairs. This article does not address the potential impact of the numerous other local, state, and state orders issued in response to the COVID 19 pandemic, including, without limitation, the potential liability in the event of an employee becoming ill, Pay for family vacation or illness requirements and other issues.

Sheppard Mullin endeavors to provide employers with updated information on COVID-19 and its effects on the workplace. Learn about the legal implications of Sheppard Mullin's Coronavirus Insights portal, which summarizes the company's various COVID-19 blog posts.

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