Welcome to the Weintraub Resources section. Here, you can find our Blogs, Videos, and Podcasts, in which Weintraub attorneys regularly provide insights and updates on legal developments. You can also find upcoming Weintraub Events, as well as firm and client News.

The CDC’s Updated Guidance Expedites the Time In-Home COVID-19 Patients Can Return to Work

The CDC has issued new guidance for in-home patients diagnosed with COVID-19, including lowering the number of days the patient must remain isolated after being fever-free. The CDC previously recommended that “at least 72 hours” pass since the last fever without the use of fever-reducing medication before ending self-isolation. Noting “accumulating evidence” and ongoing research into COVID-19 treatment, the CDC lowered the recommended isolation to “at least 24 hours.”

Researchers have further reported that people with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms remain infectious for no longer than 10 days after their symptoms begin, while those who are hospitalized with more severe symptoms and/or severely immunocompromised conditions can remain infectious no longer than 20 days after their symptoms begin.

Based on these and other findings (detailed more fully here), the CDC updated its recommendations for discontinuing home isolation. If an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, or the doctor believes they have COVID-19, and the employee was directed by a doctor to care for themselves at home (or otherwise outside a hospital setting, e.g. in a hotel, dormitory or isolation facility), the new CDC guidance is that such persons may discontinue isolation under the following conditions:

  • At least 10 days have passed since symptom onset, and
  • At least 24 hours have passed since resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications, and
  • Other symptoms have improved.

As with most other CDC guidance, this change may be adopted by state and local health departments so it is wise to check with your local, county and state health departments for further direction.

California’s COVID-19 Employer Playbook for a Safe Reopening

The California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) issued its “COVID-19 Employer Playbook” on July 24, 2020 in an effort to provide employers with a comprehensive guide related to COVID-19 as employers reopen their business. According to the CDPH, by following the Employer Playbook, employers will be able to do their part in reducing the risk and spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, and ensure that California businesses stay open. The subjects covered in the Playbook include how to open safely; what to do if there is a case of COVID-19 in the workplace; worker education; and enforcement and compliance. The Playbook contains many links to various employer and worker resources, as well as case studies to help illustrate the importance of implementing proper social distancing and safety measures.

You can obtain a copy of the CDPH’s Employer Playbook at: https://files.covid19.ca.gov/pdf/employer-playbook-for-safe-reopening–en.pdf

The Labor and Employment attorneys at Weintraub Tobin continue to wish you and yours health and safety during these challenging times.  If we can assist you with your employment law needs, please feel free to reach out to any one of us.

Brendan Begley Discusses the Office of the Future with the Sacramento Business Journal

Employment attorney Brendan Begley spoke with Sam Boykin of Sacramento Business Journal about the recent SBJ cover article on “ The Office of the Future.”  The in-depth article includes a wide spectrum of voices discussing different aspects of the changing workplace. Brendan addressed some legal concerns that employers may face in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Legal protections
Another concern for business owners is legal exposure, as most lawyers anticipate a spike in lawsuits as businesses reopen.

Brendan Begley, a shareholder and employment lawyer in the Sacramento office of Weintraub Tobin, said he foresees lawsuits arising from what happened in the health care industry during the outbreak. Begley said that some doctors and nurses were fired because they refused to treat patients unless they were provided with personal protective equipment.

“As a lawyer, I can see how something like that will result in lawsuits,” he said.

Similar scenarios could play out in other industries, as workers refuse to serve customers unless they have personal protective equipment. Or some employees may accuse a company of not providing adequate protections in the office.

“If a worker gets punished for saying that, or they get fired for not coming back to work, I think we’re going to see classic wrongful termination in violation of public policy claims,” Begley said. “Those claims are likely going to mushroom as people return to work.”

The best way to deal with such scenarios, Begley said, is to be tolerant, flexible and open-minded of new demands employees might have. “That doesn’t mean you have to give in to all of them, but you can’t just fire someone if they don’t want to come back to work. You have to stop and think why they don’t want to come back to work, and if there’s something you can do to massage and accommodate the situation so everyone can get along.”

Another challenge facing employers as they reopen is that many will likely have to downsize and lay off workers, Begley said. This could open the employer up to charges of age, race or sex discrimination.

“Even though you’re not intending to single out a group, it could still result in some kind of discrimination lawsuit,” he said. “If you’re laying people off, no matter what, some people are going to get hurt feelings.”

Despite the many challenges business will face, Begley said there is a silver lining. “A crisis can spur people to improve. Employers are going to be forced to find new and innovate ways to do things, which often will make them more productive and efficient.”

The full article is available on the Sacramento Business Journal website,  click here to read.

Webinar – Don’t Get Nailed: Tips to Help Builders Avoid Lawsuits

  • When: Aug 4, 2020
  • Where: Webinar

On August 4, Weintraub Tobin lawyers Shauna Correia and Louis Gonzalez provided an overview of the most common types of lawsuits faced by builders and contractors – as well as possible new claims due to the COVID-19 health crisis – relating to employment, workplace safety, and construction contract disputes. This webinar was hosted by the North State Building Industry Association (BIA).

Please keep in mind that the COVID-19 pandemic is a fluid situation and information is constantly being updated. We recommend that you check with your professional advisors to make sure you have the most current information.

Webinar: Inoculating Against the Coming Spread of Employee Lawsuits Related to COVID-19

  • When: Jun 17, 2020
  • Where: Webinar

On June 17, 2020, employment attorneys Brendan Begley and Shauna Correia recorded this webinar discussing the different kinds of employment-related lawsuits that business owners may face as businesses reopen and employees return to work, including disability claims, wrongful termination claims, leave claims, and discrimination claims. They provided examples of personnel decisions that could increase the spread of each type of legal ailment, as well as prescriptions for best practices that employers may implement to inoculate themselves against such lawsuits.

A recording of this webinar can be viewed on the Weintraub Tobin YouTube page. Please keep in mind that the COVID-19 pandemic is a fluid situation and information is constantly being updated. We recommend that you check with your professional advisors to make sure you have the most current information.

Business Owners – Planning Can Help Prevent Employer Liability During Civil Unrest

My colleague Brendan Begley blogged last week about the risks employers face due to the threat of COVID-19 in the workplace.  As he noted, employees have the right to expect employers to follow city, county, and state orders and take reasonable precautions to minimize the risk to a known “direct threat” to health and safety.

Now, in the wake of the horrific death of George Floyd 10 days ago, the citizens of our nation have risen up to demand racial equality and an end to systemic injustice.  Our nation’s pent up frustrations have boiled over, and, unfortunately, some of that frustration is being expressed violently.

In the last few days, I’ve been hearing from business owners who were focused on steps to reopen after COVID-19, but are now worried about preventing potential destruction of property, theft, and violence.  While owners work to protect their businesses, they must also not forget to take reasonable steps to protect their employees from harm.

Inoculating Against the Coming Spread of Employee Lawsuits Related to COVID-19

As workplaces begin reopening in the coming weeks, attorneys are predicting a rash of lawsuits by employees against their employers related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  It seems clear that workers-compensation preemption may immunize employers from most civil actions alleging that employees became infected with the virus on the job.  However, other types of employee lawsuits may reach fever pitch.

There does not appear to be any vaccination to alleviate many of the anticipated claims.  Still, just as good hygiene practices may help flatten the curve of the actual coronavirus, good employment practices can help reduce the incidence of such lawsuits in your workplace.  Here are four types of employment claims that are likely to spread like a contagion as employees are expected to (or actually do) return to their jobs, along with some inoculations that employers should consider:

Disability Claims

According to at least one media outlet, the head of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s New York office reported this week that charges accusing employers of failing to accommodate workers’ disabilities are outpacing any other allegation tied to COVID-19 in the Empire State.  Employers should anticipate similar developments here in the Golden State.

Indeed, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) and its federal counterpart, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), both prohibit disability discrimination and require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees.  An ounce of prevention – by engaging in the interactive process (from a safe distance) with infected or otherwise disabled employees to identify reasonable accommodations – often is more economical than the pound of cure that would come from prevailing in a failure-to-accommodate lawsuit.

In this regard, employers should remember that each request for an accommodation must be analyzed independently, and that a leave of absence may constitute a reasonable accommodation.  Thus, if employees request a leave of absence, either to get over their own COVID-19 infection or to reduce the risk of being exposed to the coronavirus due to some preexisting disability that puts them at greater risk, serious thought must be given to fashioning a workable accommodation.

Some employers may find respite in the notion that a coronavirus infection might not constitute an actual disability under the ADA or the FEHA, as the illness typically impairs its victims moderately or for only a short duration of time.  But this brand of comfort is often an ineffective placebo and not a recommended treatment to prevent the spread of disability lawsuits.  That is because the effects of a COVID-19 infection may be more long-lasting or create a more severe impairment for some individuals.  Thus, it would be a mistake for an employer to assume that such an infection can never amount to a protected disability.

At the same time, both the FEHA and the ADA prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of a perceived disability.  Thus, it is foreseeable that some employers might decide to treat certain workers differently than others because they believe certain workers have some other actual or perceived medical condition (e.g., a persistent cough, or diabetes, or an immunodeficiency, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).  Employers may worry that letting such vulnerable employees return to the job or interact with coworkers might make them more susceptible to getting or spreading COVID-19.  While treating such employees differently in this manner may seem (or even might actually be) an act of caring and concern that would rival Florence Nightingale, such actions can lead to costly challenges in court (especially if they are applied in a clumsy fashion).

Disability harassment is another type of claim that employers may anticipate.  One way this type of claim may arise is when coworkers, managers or supervisors develop a notion that a particular employee was (or is) infected with coronavirus and spread (or is spreading) the sickness to the workplace.  If such coworkers, managers or supervisors are allowed to harass, insult or ostracize an employee on that basis, the employer may find itself in need of some urgent care from lawyers.

Tameny Claims

The so-called Tameny claim is named after the California Supreme Court’s decision 40 years ago in Tameny v. Atlantic Richfield Co. (1980) 27 Cal.3d 167.  Under the high court’s ruling in that case, a worker may pursue a lawsuit when he or she alleges that the employer terminated his or her employment in violation of some public policy.

It is difficult to tally how many Tameny claims are spreading in California, as the administrative agencies that handle claims of disability discrimination (or other types of discrimination, harassment or retaliation) typically are not responsible for investigating a Tameny claim.  So we may not know for many months how many Tameny claims have been filed in court; nonetheless, there is good reason to think the number will be high.

Keep in mind that California has a public policy that requires employers to “furnish employment and a place of employment that is safe and healthful for the employees therein.”  (Cal. Labor Code, § 6400.)  Also bear in mind that California has a public policy that prohibits employers from “preventing an employee from disclosing information to a government or law enforcement agency,” or to a manager or supervisor, “who has authority to investigate, discover, or correct the violation or noncompliance.”  (Cal. Labor Code, § 1102.5.)

With those public policies in mind, there are two general ways to become exposed to a Tameny affliction.  One arises when an employee is fired for refusing to execute some task on the job that actually would be unlawful.  The second arises when the employee is fired for complaining about what he or she reasonably perceives to be unlawful activity in the workplace (even if the activity in question turns out to be legal).

Regarding the first variety, it is easy to foresee the following scenario developing:  An employer directs an employee to return to work and the employee refuses and is fired.  If the employer instructed the employee to return before the government lifted restrictions for that specific workplace, terminating the employee for refusing to return may violate a public policy.  Likewise, if the employer waits until the restrictions lift but then fails to enforce regulations requiring social distancing or sanitary practices or the donning of personal protective equipment (“PPE”), firing an employee for refusing to work under such conditions may also be in violation of public policy.

Turning to the second type of Tameny ailments, it is equally easy to anticipate these scenarios occurring:  An employer directs an employee to return to work either before the restrictions are lifted or after the restrictions are lifted but without implementing or enforcing policies for social distancing, sanitation, or PPE.  The employee complies, returns to the job, and performs his or her work, but not quietly or without protest.  Instead, the employee complains about the workplace conditions, either to a governmental agency or a supervisor, and is subsequently fired.  Terminating an employee for complaining about such workplace conditions may be in violation of public policy.

One aspect of many Tameny claims that make them look less severe than other types of claims is that they often do not result in the employer having to pay the employee’s attorney fees.  However, given the other undesirable symptoms and bad side-effects that such lawsuits can trigger (e.g., lost productivity due to litigation, or the risk of emotional-distress and even punitive damages), that is a bit like telling a sick patient suffering from simultaneous chills and sweats that a fever of 103.8 degrees is not as bad as one that is 104 degrees.

Leave Claims

There are a number of federal and state laws that require various employers to provide a certain amount of protected leave to covered employees; for example, the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”).

The FFCRA was passed just this year to provide workers with protected leave if they have been impacted in various ways by the coronavirus and related shelter-in-place orders.  It has already resulted in what some might call an epidemic of lawsuits where employees have claimed that their employer interfered with their protected leave, denied them benefits, or fired them in retaliation for requesting leave.

Meanwhile, the FMLA and the CFRA are not geared specifically for coronavirus-related leaves, like the FFCRA is, but those laws may still protect such leaves of absence.  Making things more complicated, there may be overlap between these leave entitlements and some employers may be subject to all of these laws, while others are subject to some or none of them.

It is very probable that employers will be faced with many more leave requests, either to care for someone who has been infected with COVID-19 or to stay at home with a child whose school or daycare facility remains closed while some restrictions are lifted.  Of course, employees also may request leave to deal with other health conditions that deteriorated while they were unable to get routine medical treatment while sheltered in place.  Each leave request should be given serious consideration.

Discrimination Claims

Whereas some employers may be struggling with too many employees in need of leave, others may be grappling with having to lay off employees due to downturns in business as a result of the shelter-in-place restrictions.  In either scenario, care must be given to how such decisions are made and serious thought must be devoted to the potential results.

Such decisions may trigger claims under the FEHA or its federal counterparts, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.  Those laws bar making employment decisions on the basis of certain protected categories; for instance, age, race, national-origin, gender or religion.

When deciding which employees are going to be given leaves of absence, or laid off, or assigned to certain duties, consistent procedures and rationales must be followed.  Even then, under what is called the disparate-impact type of claim, a neutral policy or practice can lead to discrimination liability if it has a statistically disproportionate impact on a certain class of workers.

Inoculate Against Such Claims

There is no vaccine that will prevent or get rid of all such claims, but the harmful effects of such lawsuits can be ameliorated by following certain precautions.

First, be sensitive to actual or perceived disabilities, do not make medical assumptions, work hard to identify and implement reasonable accommodations for disabled employees, and be vigilant in guarding against harassment of employees on the basis of some perceived or actual medical condition.

Second, take every request for a disability accommodation or leave of absence seriously and analyze each one independently on its own merits.

Third, do not violate or direct your employees to violate governmental shelter-in-place, social-distancing, sanitary or PPE restrictions or regulations.

Fourth, whenever making a termination decision, be sure it is for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the employee’s refusal to violate some public policy or the employee’s complaints about reasonably perceived violations of some public policy.

Fifth, make certain that personnel decisions have nothing to with protected classifications (e.g., age, race, gender, religion) and carefully analyze how decisions may impact protected classes of employees.

Just as there presently is no medicine that is sure to eradicate the current pandemic, there is no one-size-fits-all regimen that will completely wipeout such employment claims.  Even these steps cannot completely immunize employers against all these types of lawsuits, yet failing to adopt such protective measures probably will increase the risk of exposure to these afflictions.

Finally, it seems obvious that getting prompt medical attention may stem the more serious effects of a disease; by the same token, obtaining early legal advice may decrease the incidence or cost of these exorbitant types of lawsuits.

The DFEH’s Free On-Line Sexual Harassment Prevention Training For Non-Supervisors is FINALLY Available

On May 20, 2020, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) announced that it has finally launched free anti-sexual harassment training for non-supervisory employees. The online training, which is available through DFEH’s website – https://www.dfeh.ca.gov/shpt/ – will meet an employer’s obligation to provide training to non-supervisory employees by January 1, 2021.

Section 12950.1 of the California Government Code requires employers with five or more employees to provide at least one-hour of classroom or other effective interactive training and education regarding sexual harassment prevention to all non-supervisory employees in California.

California Continues to Work With Counties for the Slow Re-Opening of the State

This is a follow up to our previous blog regarding California’s gradual entry into Stage 2 of the State’s re-opening plan – termed the “Resilience Roadmap.”  As Governor Newsom announced on Tuesday, May 13, 2020, counties are able to, and are, submitting their attestations to the State to speed up the reopening of certain businesses within their counties.  As such, the gradual reopening of businesses in Stage 2 is a fluid and rapidly evolving process driven not only by the State’s decisions on what businesses can and cannot reopen (on a modified basis) at this time, but also on what counties are doing to help move the process along for their businesses.  However, it is important to note, that the State has made very clear that if counties have more restrictive shelter-in-place orders in place, they may continue to enforce them even if the State’s order is modified to reduce certain restrictions.

The evolving re-opening plan around the State is being regularly updated on the State’s website.  Because the updates are happening in real time, it is important for businesses to regularly check the California Department of Public Health’s website to determine the current status of the State and county orders that apply to their business location(s). The website can be found here: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/COVID-19/Local-Variance-Attestations.aspx

The Labor and Employment attorneys at Weintraub Tobin continue to wish you and your family good health during these challenging times. If we can assist you with your employment law needs, please reach out to any one of us.

EEOC Again Updates its Guidance & FAQ’s Regarding COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws

The EEOC has updated its COVID-19 Guidance once again by adding a number of new FAQs to address issues related to the anticipated re-entry into the workplace.  The new FAQs discuss things like: an employer’s right to screen employees before entering the workplace to avoid a “direct threat” to the health and safety of employees; documentation to support an employee’s request for an accommodation; and “undue hardship” considerations when denying an accommodation based on the impact of COVID-19 on the business.  Below is a list of the updated/new FAQs.  The complete EEOC’s Guidance and FAQs can be found here.

A.6. May an employer administer a COVID-19 test (a test to detect the presence of the COVID-19 virus) before permitting employees to enter the workplace? (4/23/20)

The ADA requires that any mandatory medical test of employees be “job related and consistent with business necessity.” Applying this standard to the current circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers may take steps to determine if employees entering the workplace have COVID-19 because an individual with the virus will pose a direct threat to the health of others. Therefore an employer may choose to administer COVID-19 testing to employees before they enter the workplace to determine if they have the virus.

Consistent with the ADA standard, employers should ensure that the tests are accurate and reliable. For example, employers may review guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about what may or may not be considered safe and accurate testing, as well as guidance from CDC or other public health authorities, and check for updates. Employers may wish to consider the incidence of false-positives or false-negatives associated with a particular test. Finally, note that accurate testing only reveals if the virus is currently present; a negative test does not mean the employee will not acquire the virus later.