Cal/OSHA Rulemaking – Permanent Wildfire Safety Rules on Tap – OCTOBER 2020


AS WILDFIRES continue raging throughout California, Cal/OSHA has issued a reminder to employers that they are required to protect their outdoor workers from smoke if the Air Quality Index exceeds 150. Cal/OSHA has extended an emergency regulation it put in place in August 2019 through January 2021 as it works on a permanent regulation on wildfire smoke protection for outdoor workers in the state.

For the safety of your workers and to comply with the regulation, it’s important that you follow the regs and know when you will need to take action to protect them from outdoor smoke.
The regulation applies when the AQI for airborne particulate matter 2.5 microns (PM2.5) or smaller is 151 or greater in an area where employees are working outdoors. Here are the details:

Identification

Employers must monitor the AQI for PM2.5. You can monitor the index using the following websites:

  • U.S. EPA AirNow
  • U.S. Forest Service Wildland Air Quality Response Program
  • California Air Resources Board
  • Local air pollution control district websites or local air quality management district websites.

Training and instruction

Employers with outdoor workers need train their workers in:

  • The health effects of wildfire smoke.
  • Their right to obtain medical treatment without fear of reprisal.
  • How they can obtain the current AQI for PM2.5.
  • Actions they must take if the AQI exceeds 150 PM 2.5

Communication

Employers must implement a system for communicating wildfire smoke hazards to all affected employees, as well as a system for employees to inform the employer of smoke hazards.

The takeaway

If you have outside employees who may have to work in smoky conditions, you should stockpile a two-week supply of N-95 masks for all of them if you are unable to implement other controls to reduce their exposure.
Cal/OSHA is in the process of making the emergency rules permanent and has sent them out for public comment. We will continue monitoring the agency’s progress on the rules and update you when they have been completed.

 

 


Worker’s Compensation – COVID-19 Prompts Rate Hike Recommendation – OCTOBER 2020


THE COVID-19 pandemic seems to have reversed years of falling workers’ compensation rates in California, as the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau has recommended that average benchmark rates be increased by 2.6% for 2021.
The recommendation was forwarded to the California Department of Insurance, which will schedule a hearing on the recommendation in the fall.
It should be noted that the 2.6% increase recommendation would be an average across all class codes, as the Rating Bureau plans to allocate the expected COVID-19 costs by weight across the state’s overall industrial sector. Note that even low exposure classes will be surcharged.
The Bureau in its recommendation aims to apply the surcharge on a weighted basis according to each class code’s share of growing COVID-19 claims costs. It is considering a tiered surcharge model based on an employer’s risk, as follows (for examples, see below):

High risk – A 12-cent surcharge per $100 of payroll.
Medium risk – A 6-cent surcharge per $100 of payroll.
Low risk – A 4-cent surcharge per $100 of payroll.

 

The X-factor


The Bureau’s actuarial committee noted that the pandemic does present challenges for predicting workers’ compensation costs. “The 2021 policy year will still be impacted by COVID-19, but some trends may stabilize. The challenge will be projecting exposure and claims frequency (for COVID-19 claims),” the committee wrote in a report. Actually, the overall effect of COVID-19 on rates going into 2021 was 4%, according to the Rating Bureau. Had it not included the COVID-19 surcharge, it would be asking for a 1.3% decrease in benchmark rates.

The reason is that claims costs and claims frequency have been falling and long-term claims are costing less than originally anticipated. The Bureau also forecasts that the recession caused by the pandemic will also have a profound effect on overall claims: it projects an overall 6.3% decrease in claims frequency due to slowing economic conditions.

Interestingly, COVID-19 claims are not supposed to count against employers’ experience rating and loss histories, according to new rules that took effect in May. However, the claims are having an overall effect in terms of workers’ comp benefit payments. The Bureau also has to price in the uncertainty over the future of COVID-19. Will it get worse, or will it begin to wane? Will there be a vaccine and new and improved treatment regimens that reduce mortality or decrease symptoms and hospitalizations?

It is concerned that some low-risk industries may be getting a surcharge that is still out of proportion to their actual risk, particularly with people who are working remotely. It plans to further study the issue and will likely amend the filing depending on the results.


Law Adds Independent Contractor Exemptions – OCTOBER 2020


A NEW LAW has come to the rescue of a number of freelance professions by exempting them from the onerous requirements of AB 5, which required most independent contractors to be classified as employees in California. Governor Gavin Newsom on Sept. 1 signed AB 2257 as an urgency measure so that it took effect immediately. If you remember, AB 5 set a new standard for hiring independent contractors, requiring many to be reclassified as employees covered by minimum wage, overtime, workers’ compensation, unemployment and disability insurance. It created a three-pronged test that needs to be satisfied to determine if someone is an independent contractor or an employee.

To be independent contractors under AB 5’s “ABC test,” workers must (A) work independently, (B) do work that is different from what the business does, and (C) offer their work to other businesses or the public. All three conditions must be met.

It is prong B that’s problematic. For example, a freelance writer working for a magazine would not be doing something different than the business does. The new law sets limits on the amount of income someone can receive while doing this kind of work before being considered an employee. AB 2257 also expands the “business-to-business” definition in AB 5 to cover a relationship between two or more sole proprietors.

 

 

 

 


Ten Employee Lawsuit Risks During Covid-19 – July 2020


THE NOVEL coronavirus that broke out in the winter has caused immeasurable suffering, both physical and economic. For employers struggling to stay in business, this is a fraught time where mistakes in managing their workforces could lead to employee lawsuits. Here are 10 potential trouble spots to watch for.

1. Workplace safety – Businesses that still have employees working on-site run the risk that a single infected worker may send the virus ripping through the entire workforce. While workers’ compensation laws may prevent employees from suing, their family members who become ill or suffer through a worker’s illness face no such constraints.

2. Sick time and paid leave – Congress enacted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in March, guaranteeing full-time employees of small businesses 80 hours of sick leave (part-timers get a prorated amount.) Mistakes in administering these benefits could prompt lawsuits.

3. Workplace discrimination – Because the coronavirus originated in China, there have been reports of Asian-Americans being targets of racist actions. Employers must take care to avoid the appearance of making workplace decisions based even partly on employees’ race.

4. Americans with Disabilities Act – The ADA prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for these workers. Employees who become ill from COVID-19 (the illness caused by the virus) may suffer after-effects that include trouble breathing, speaking, and working at their former pace. Employers must accommodate these workers to the extent that is practical.

5. Wage and hour violations – Non-exempt employees working remotely may be working more than their regular hours, missing rest and meal breaks, and using their own equipment. Employers must keep careful records, reimburse employees for their use of personal equipment where warranted and remind employees to take mandatory breaks.

6. Battered retirement plans – Stock markets have cratered since the beginning of the year, taking retirement account balances down with them. Questions may be asked about whether fund managers did enough to limit the damage. Employees who are not satisfied with the answers may go to court.

7. Health information privacy – Employee health information privacy is protected by law. Employers must secure the records of infected employees from unauthorized access by individuals within and outside the company.

8. Union contracts – Collective bargaining agreements may contain provisions that go beyond federal requirements for breaks, paid leave, layoff notices, and workplace safety. Employers must keep their CBAs in mind and work with their unions to avoid contract violations.

9. Disparate impact from layoffs – If layoffs are necessary, employers must take a thoughtful approach when deciding which employees to part company with. An appearance of singling out older workers or other protected classes under discrimination laws could invite lawsuits.

10. WARN Act – The Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act requires some employers to provide at least 60 days’ notice before layoffs. Many businesses’ revenues fell off the cliff so quickly that they were unable to provide that much notice.

A final thought
The pandemic is a crisis that few businesses foresaw. The effects, including the litigation, may haunt them for a long time to come.


Essential Workers’ List COVID 19 Workers’ Comp – New Executive Order by Governor Newsom


On March 19, 2020, Governor Newsom issued Executive Order N-33-20 directing all residents immediately to heed current State public health directives to stay home, except as needed to maintain continuity of operations of essential critical infrastructure sectors and additional sectors as the State Public Health Officer may designate as critical to protect health and well-being of all Californians.
In accordance with this order, the State Public Health Officer has designated the following list of “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers” to help state, local, tribal, and industry partners as they work to protect communities while ensuring continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security.

Note:  Employees have 14 days to file and the employer has 30 days to respond.  The new rules apply to workers who tested positive for COVID-19 within 14 days of performing work, or those who received a diagnosis within 14 days that was confirmed by a positive test no more than 30 days later. Employers have 30 days to rebut a claim.

 

HEALTHCARE / PUBLIC HEALTH
Sector Profile
The Healthcare and Public Health (HPH) Sector is large, diverse, and open, spanning both the public and private sectors. It includes publicly accessible healthcare facilities, research centers, suppliers, manufacturers, and other physical assets and vast, complex public-private information technology systems required for care delivery and to support the rapid, secure transmission and storage of large amounts of HPH data.

Essential Workforce
• Workers providing COVID-19 testing; Workers that perform critical clinical research needed for COVID-19 response.
• Health care providers and caregivers (e.g., physicians, dentists, psychologists, mid-level practitioners, nurses and assistants, infection control and quality assurance personnel, pharmacists, physical and occupational therapists and assistants, social workers, speech pathologists and diagnostic and therapeutic technicians and technologists).
• Hospital and laboratory personnel (including accounting, administrative, admitting and discharge, engineering, epidemiological, source plasma and blood donation, food service, housekeeping, medical records, information technology and operational technology, nutritionists, sanitarians, respiratory therapists, etc.).
• Workers in other medical facilities (including Ambulatory Health and Surgical, Blood Banks, Clinics, Community Mental Health, Comprehensive Outpatient rehabilitation, End Stage Renal Disease, Health Departments, Home Health care, Hospices, Hospitals, Long Term Care, Organ Pharmacies, Procurement Organizations, Psychiatric, Residential, Rural Health Clinics and Federally Qualified Health Centers, cannabis retailers).
• Manufacturers, technicians, logistics and warehouse operators, and distributors of medical equipment, personal protective equipment (PPE), medical gases, pharmaceuticals, blood and blood products, vaccines, testing materials, laboratory supplies, cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting or sterilization supplies, personal care/hygiene products, and tissue and paper towel products.

• Public health/community health workers, including those who compile, model, analyze, and communicate public health information.
• Behavioral health workers (including mental and substance use disorder) responsible for coordination, outreach, engagement, and treatment to individuals in need of mental health and/or substance use disorder services.
• Blood and plasma donors and the employees of the organizations that operate and manage related activities.
• Workers that manage health plans, billing, and health information, who cannot practically work remotely.
• Workers who conduct community-based public health functions, conducting epidemiologic surveillance, compiling, analyzing and communicating public health information, who cannot practically work remotely.
• Workers who provide support to vulnerable populations to ensure their health and well-being including family care providers
• Workers performing cybersecurity functions at healthcare and public health facilities, who cannot practically work remotely.
• Workers conducting research critical to COVID-19 response.
• Workers performing security, incident management, and emergency operations functions at or on behalf of healthcare entities including healthcare coalitions, who cannot practically work remotely.
• Workers who support food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals, such as those residing in shelters.
• Pharmacy employees necessary for filling prescriptions.
• Workers performing mortuary services, including funeral homes, crematoriums, and cemetery workers.
• Workers who coordinate with other organizations to ensure the proper recovery, handling, identification, transportation, tracking, storage, and disposal of human remains and personal effects; certify the cause of death; and facilitate access to behavioral health services to the family members, responders, and survivors of an incident.
• Workers supporting veterinary hospitals and clinics

EMERGENCY SERVICES SECTOR
Sector Profile
The Emergency Services Sector (ESS) is a community of highly-skilled, trained personnel, along with the physical and cyber resources, that provide a wide range of prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery services during both day-to-day operations and incident response. The ESS includes geographically distributed facilities and equipment in both paid and volunteer capacities organized primarily at the federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial levels of government, such as city police departments and fire stations, county sheriff’s offices, Department of Defense police and fire departments, and town public works departments. The ESS also includes private sector resources, such as industrial fire departments, private security organizations, and private emergency medical services providers.

Essential Workforce – Law Enforcement, Public Safety, and First Responders
• Including front line and management, personnel include emergency management, law enforcement, Emergency Management Systems, fire, and corrections, search and rescue, tactical teams including maritime, aviation, and canine units.
• Emergency Medical Technicians
• Public Safety Answering Points and 911 call center employees
• Fusion Center employees
• Fire Mitigation Activities
• Hazardous material responders and hazardous devices teams, from government and the private sector.
• Workers – including contracted vendors — who maintain digital systems infrastructure supporting law enforcement and emergency service operations.
• Private security, private fire departments, and private emergency medical services personnel.
• County workers responding to abuse and neglect of children, elders, and dependent adults.
• Animal control officers and humane officers

Essential Workforce – Public Works
• Workers who support the operation, inspection, and maintenance of essential dams, locks, and levees
• Workers who support the operation, inspection, and maintenance of essential public works facilities and operations, including bridges, water and sewer main breaks, fleet maintenance personnel, construction of critical or strategic infrastructure, construction material suppliers, traffic signal maintenance, emergency location services for buried utilities, maintenance of digital systems infrastructure supporting public works operations, and other emergent issues
• Workers such as plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences.
• Support, such as road and line clearing, to ensure the availability of needed facilities, transportation, energy, and communications support to ensure the effective removal, storage, and disposal of residential and commercial solid waste and hazardous waste.

FOOD AND AGRICULTURE
Sector Profile
The Food and Agricultural (FA) Sector is composed of complex production, processing, and delivery systems and has the capacity to feed people and animals both within and beyond the boundaries of the United States. Beyond domestic food production, the FA Sector also imports many ingredients and finished products, leading to a complex web of growers, processors, suppliers, transporters, distributors, and consumers. This sector is critical to maintaining and securing our food supply.

Essential Workforce
• Workers supporting groceries, pharmacies, and other retail that sells food and beverage products, including but not limited to Grocery stores, Corner stores and convenience stores, including liquor stores that sell food, Farmers’ markets, Food banks, Farm and produce stands, Supermarkets, Similar food retail establishments, Big box stores that sell groceries and essentials
• Restaurant carry-out and quick-serve food operations – including food preparation, carry-out, and delivery food employees
• Food manufacturer employees and their supplier employees—to include those employed in food processing (packers, meat processing, cheese plants, milk plants, produce, etc.) facilities; livestock, poultry, seafood slaughter facilities; pet and animal feed processing facilities; human food facilities producing by-products for animal food; beverage production facilities; and the production of food packaging
• Farmworkers to include those employed in animal food, feed, and ingredient production, packaging, and distribution; manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of veterinary drugs; truck delivery and transport; farm and fishery labor needed to produce our food supply domestically
• Farmworkers and support service workers to include those who field crops; commodity inspection; fuel ethanol facilities; storage facilities; and other agricultural inputs
• Employees and firms supporting food, feed, and beverage distribution (including curbside distribution and deliveries), including warehouse workers, vendor-managed inventory controllers, blockchain managers, distribution
• Workers supporting the sanitation of all food manufacturing processes and operations from wholesale to retail
• Company cafeterias – in-plant cafeterias used to feed employees
• Workers in food testing labs in private industries and in institutions of higher education
• Workers essential for assistance programs and government payments
• Workers supporting cannabis retail and dietary supplement retail
• Employees of companies engaged in the production of chemicals, medicines, vaccines, and other substances used by the food and agriculture industry, including pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, minerals, enrichments, and other agricultural production aids
• Animal agriculture workers to include those employed in veterinary health; manufacturing and distribution of animal medical materials, animal vaccines, animal drugs, feed ingredients, feed, and bedding, etc.; transportation of live animals, animal medical materials; transportation of deceased animals for disposal; raising of animals for food; animal production operations; slaughter and packing plants and associated regulatory and government workforce
• Workers who support the manufacture and distribution of forest products, including, but not limited to timber, paper, and other wood products
• Employees engaged in the manufacture and maintenance of equipment and other infrastructure necessary to agricultural production and distribution

ENERGY
Sector Profile
The Energy Sector consists of widely-diverse and geographically-dispersed critical assets and systems that are often interdependent of one another. This critical infrastructure is divided into three interrelated segments or subsectors—electricity, oil, and natural gas—to include the production, refining, storage, and distribution of oil, gas, and electric power, except for hydroelectric and commercial nuclear power facilities and pipelines. The Energy Sector supplies fuels to the transportation industry, electricity to households and businesses, and other sources of energy that are integral to growth and production across the Nation. In turn, it depends on the Nation’s transportation, information technology, communications, finance, water, and government infrastructures.

Essential Workforce – Electricity industry:
• Workers who maintain, ensure, or restore the generation, transmission, and distribution of electric power, including call centers, utility workers, reliability engineers and fleet maintenance technicians
• Workers needed for safe and secure operations at nuclear generation
• Workers at generation, transmission, and electric blackstart facilities
• Workers at Reliability Coordinator (RC), Balancing Authorities (BA), and primary and backup Control Centers (CC), including but not limited to independent system operators, regional transmission organizations, and balancing authorities
• Mutual assistance personnel
• IT and OT technology staff – for EMS (Energy Management Systems) and Supervisory Control and Data
• Acquisition (SCADA) systems, and utility data centers; Cybersecurity engineers; cybersecurity risk management
• Vegetation management crews and traffic workers who support
• Environmental remediation/monitoring technicians
• Instrumentation, protection, and control technicians

Essential Workforce – Petroleum workers:
• Petroleum product storage, pipeline, marine transport, terminals, rail transport, road transport
• Crude oil storage facilities, pipeline, and marine transport
• Petroleum refinery facilities
• Petroleum security operations center employees and workers who support emergency response services
• Petroleum operations control rooms/centers
• Petroleum drilling, extraction, production, processing, refining, terminal operations, transporting, and retail for use as end-use fuels or feedstocks for chemical manufacturing
• Onshore and offshore operations for maintenance and emergency response
• Retail fuel centers such as gas stations and truck stops, and the distribution systems that support them.

Essential Workforce – Natural and propane gas workers:
• Natural gas transmission and distribution pipelines, including compressor stations
• Underground storage of natural gas
• Natural gas processing plants, and those that deal with natural gas liquids
• Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facilities
• Natural gas security operations center, natural gas operations dispatch and control rooms/centers natural gas emergency response and customer emergencies, including natural gas leak calls
• Drilling, production, processing, refining, and transporting natural gas for use as end-use fuels, feedstocks for chemical manufacturing, or use in electricity generation
• Propane gas dispatch and control rooms and emergency response and customer emergencies, including propane leak calls
• Propane gas service maintenance and restoration, including call centers
• Processing, refining, and transporting natural liquids, including propane gas, for use as end-use fuels or feedstocks for chemical manufacturing
• Propane gas storage, transmission, and distribution centers

WATER AND WASTEWATER
Sector Profile
The Water and Wastewater Sector is a complex sector composed of drinking water and wastewater infrastructure of varying sizes and ownership types. Multiple governing authorities pertaining to the Water and Wastewater Sector provide for public health, environmental protection, and security measures, among others.

Essential Workforce
Employees needed to operate and maintain drinking water and wastewater/drainage infrastructure, including:
• Operational staff at water authorities
• Operational staff at community water systems
• Operational staff at wastewater treatment facilities
• Workers repairing water and wastewater conveyances and performing required sampling or monitoring
• Operational staff for water distribution and testing
• Operational staff at wastewater collection facilities
• Operational staff and technical support for SCADA Control systems
• Chemical disinfectant suppliers for wastewater and personnel protection
• Workers that maintain digital systems infrastructure supporting water and wastewater operations

TRANSPORTATION AND LOGISTICS
Sector Profile
The Transportation Systems Sector consists of seven key subsectors, or modes:
– Aviation includes aircraft, air traffic control systems, and airports, heliports, and landing strips. Commercial aviation services at civil and joint-use military airports, heliports, and seaplane bases. In addition, the aviation mode includes commercial and recreational aircraft (manned and unmanned) and a wide variety of support services, such as aircraft repair stations, fueling facilities, navigation aids, and flight schools.
– Highway and Motor Carrier encompasses roadway, bridges, and tunnels. Vehicles include trucks, including those carrying hazardous materials; other commercial vehicles, including commercial motorcoaches and school buses; vehicle and driver licensing systems; taxis, transportation services including Transportation Network Companies, and delivery services including Delivery Network Companies; traffic management systems; AND cyber systems used for operational management.
– Maritime Transportation System consists of coastline, ports, waterways, and intermodal landside connections that allow the various modes of transportation to move people and goods to, from, and on the water.
– Mass Transit and Passenger Rail includes terminals, operational systems, and supporting infrastructure for passenger services by transit buses, trolleybuses, monorail, heavy rail—also known as subways or metros—light rail, passenger rail, and vanpool/rideshare.
– Pipeline Systems consist of pipelines carrying natural gas hazardous liquids, as well as various chemicals. Above-ground assets, such as compressor stations and pumping stations, are also included.
– Freight Rail consists of major carriers, smaller railroads, active railroad, freight cars, and locomotives.
– Postal and Shipping includes large integrated carriers, regional and local courier services, mail services, mail management firms, and chartered and delivery services.

Essential Workforce
• Employees supporting or enabling transportation functions, including dispatchers, maintenance and repair technicians, warehouse workers, truck stop and rest area workers, and workers that maintain and inspect infrastructure (including those that require cross-border travel)
• Employees of firms providing services that enable logistics operations, including cooling, storing, packaging, and distributing products for wholesale or retail sale or use.
• Mass transit workers
• Taxis, transportation services including Transportation Network Companies, and delivery services including Delivery Network Companies
• Workers responsible for operating dispatching passenger, commuter and freight trains and maintaining rail infrastructure and equipment
• Maritime transportation workers – port workers, mariners, equipment operators
• Truck drivers who haul hazardous and waste materials to support critical infrastructure, capabilities, functions, and services
• Automotive repair and maintenance facilities
• Manufacturers and distributors (to include service centers and related operations) of packaging materials, pallets, crates, containers, and other supplies needed to support manufacturing, packaging staging, and distribution operations
• Postal and shipping workers, to include private companies
• Employees who repair and maintain vehicles, aircraft, rail equipment, marine vessels, and the equipment and infrastructure that enables operations that encompass the movement of cargo and passengers
• Air transportation employees, including air traffic controllers, ramp personnel, aviation security, and aviation management
• Workers who support the maintenance and operation of cargo by air transportation, including flight crews, maintenance, airport operations, and other on- and off-airport facilities workers


COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
Sector Profile
The Communications Sector provides products and services that support the efficient operation of today’s global information-based society. Communication networks enable people around the world to contact one another, access information instantly, and communicate from remote areas. This involves creating a link between a sender (including voice signals) and one or more recipients using technology (e.g., a telephone system or the Internet) to transmit information from one location to another. Technologies are changing at a rapid pace, increasing the number of products, services, service providers, and communication options. The national communications architecture is a complex collection of networks that are owned and operated by individual service providers. Many of this sector’s products and services are foundational or necessary for the operations and services provided by other critical infrastructure sectors. The nature of communication networks involve both physical infrastructure (buildings, switches, towers, antennas, etc.) and cyberinfrastructure (routing and switching software, operational support systems, user applications, etc.), representing a holistic challenge to address the entire physical-cyber infrastructure.
The IT sector provides products and services that support the efficient operation of today’s global information-based society and are integral to the operations and services provided by other critical infrastructure Sectors. The IT Sector is comprised of small and medium businesses, as well as large multinational companies. Unlike many critical infrastructure Sectors composed of finite and easily identifiable physical assets, the IT Sector is a function-based Sector that comprises not only physical assets but also virtual systems and networks that enable key capabilities and services in both the public and private sectors.

Essential Workforce – Communications:
• Maintenance of communications infrastructure- including privately owned and maintained communication systems- supported by technicians, operators, call-centers, wireline and wireless providers, cable service providers, satellite operations, undersea cable landing stations, Internet Exchange Points, and manufacturers and distributors of communications equipment
• Workers who support radio, television, and media service, including, but not limited to front line news reporters, studio, and technicians for newsgathering and reporting
• Workers at Independent System Operators and Regional Transmission Organizations, and Network Operations staff, engineers and/or technicians to manage the network or operate facilities
• Engineers, technicians and associated personnel responsible for infrastructure construction and restoration, including contractors for construction and engineering of fiber optic cables
• Installation, maintenance and repair technicians that establish, support or repair service as needed
• Central office personnel to maintain and operate central office, data centers, and other network office facilities
• Customer service and support staff, including managed and professional services as well as remote providers of support to transitioning employees to set up and maintain home offices, who interface with customers to manage or support service environments and security issues, including payroll, billing, fraud, and troubleshooting
• Dispatchers involved with service repair and restoration

Essential Workforce – Information Technology:
• Workers who support command centers, including, but not limited to Network Operations Command Center, Broadcast Operations Control Center and Security Operations Command Center
• Data center operators, including system administrators, HVAC & electrical engineers, security personnel, IT managers, data transfer solutions engineers, software and hardware engineers, and database administrators
• Client service centers, field engineers, and other technicians supporting critical infrastructure, as well as manufacturers and supply chain vendors that provide hardware and software, and information technology equipment (to include microelectronics and semiconductors) for critical infrastructure
• Workers responding to cyber incidents involving critical infrastructure, including medical facilities, SLTT governments and federal facilities, energy and utilities, and banks and financial institutions, and other critical infrastructure categories and personnel
• Workers supporting the provision of essential global, national and local infrastructure for computing services (incl. cloud computing services), business infrastructure, web-based services, and critical manufacturing
• Workers supporting communications systems and information technology used by law enforcement, public safety, medical, energy and other critical industries
• Support required for continuity of services, including janitorial/cleaning personnel

OTHER COMMUNITY-BASED GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS AND ESSENTIAL FUNCTIONS
Essential Workforce
• Critical government workers, as defined by the employer and consistent with Continuity of Operations Plans and Continuity of Government plans.
• County workers responsible for determining eligibility for safety net benefits
• The Courts, consistent with guidance released by the California Chief Justice
• Workers to ensure continuity of building functions
• Security staff to maintain building access control and physical security measures
• Elections personnel
• Federal, State, and Local, Tribal, and Territorial employees who support Mission Essential Functions and communications networks
• Trade Officials (FTA negotiators; international data flow administrators)
• Weather forecasters
• Workers that maintain digital systems infrastructure supporting other critical government operations
• Workers at operations centers necessary to maintain other essential functions
• Workers who support necessary credentialing, vetting and licensing operations for transportation workers
• Workers who are critical to facilitating trade in support of the national, state, and local emergency response supply chain
• Workers supporting public and private childcare establishments, pre-K establishments, K-12 schools, colleges, and universities for purposes of distance learning, provision of school meals, or care and supervision of minors to support essential workforce across all sectors
• Workers and instructors supporting academies and training facilities and courses for the purpose of graduating students and cadets that comprise the essential workforce for all identified critical sectors
• Hotel Workers where hotels are used for COVID-19 mitigation and containment measures, including measures to protect homeless populations.
• Construction Workers who support the construction, operation, inspection, and maintenance of construction sites and construction projects (including housing construction)
• Workers such as plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, construction material sources, and essential operation of construction sites and construction projects (including those that support such projects to ensure the availability of needed facilities, transportation, energy and communications; and support to ensure the effective removal, storage, and disposal of solid waste and hazardous waste)
• Commercial Retail Stores, that supply essential sectors, including convenience stores, pet supply stores, auto supplies and repair, hardware and home improvement, and home appliance retailers • Workers supporting the entertainment industries, studios, and other related establishments, provided they follow covid-19 public health guidance around social distancing. • Workers critical to operating Rental Car companies that facilitate continuity of operations for essential workforces, and other essential travel
• Workers that provide or determine eligibility for food, shelter, in-home supportive services, child welfare, adult protective services and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals (including family members)
• Professional services, such as legal or accounting services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities and critical sector services
• Faith-based services that are provided through streaming or other technology • Laundromats and laundry services
• Workers at animal care facilities that provide food, shelter, veterinary and/or routine care and other necessities of life for animals.

CRITICAL MANUFACTURING
Sector Profile
The Critical Manufacturing Sector identifies several industries to serve as the core of the sector: Primary Metals Manufacturing, Machinery Manufacturing, Electrical Equipment, Appliance, and Component Manufacturing, Transportation Equipment Manufacturing Products made by these manufacturing industries are essential to many other critical infrastructure sectors.

Essential Workforce
• Workers necessary for the manufacturing of materials and products needed for medical supply chains, transportation, energy, communications, food and agriculture, chemical manufacturing, nuclear facilities, the operation of dams, water and wastewater treatment, emergency services, and the defense industrial base.

HAZARDOUS MATERIALS
Essential Workforce
• Workers at nuclear facilities, workers managing medical waste, workers managing waste from pharmaceuticals and medical material production, and workers at laboratories processing test kits
• Workers who support hazardous materials response and cleanup
• Workers who maintain digital systems infrastructure supporting hazardous materials management operations

FINANCIAL SERVICES
Sector Profile
The Financial Services Sector includes thousands of depository institutions, providers of investment products, insurance companies, other credit and financing organizations, and the providers of the critical financial utilities and services that support these functions. Financial institutions vary widely in size and presence, ranging from some of the world’s largest global companies with thousands of employees and many billions of dollars in assets to community banks and credit unions with a small number of employees serving individual communities. Whether an individual savings account, financial derivatives, credit extended to a large organization, or investments made to a foreign country, these products allow customers to: Deposit funds and make payments to other parties; Provide credit and liquidity to customers; Invest funds for both long and short periods; Transfer financial risks between customers.

Essential Workforce
• Workers who are needed to process and maintain systems for processing financial transactions and services (e.g., payment, clearing, and settlement; wholesale funding; insurance services; and capital markets activities)
• Workers who are needed to provide consumer access to banking and lending services, including ATMs, and to move currency and payments (e.g., armored cash carriers)
• Workers who support financial operations, such as those staffing data and security operations centers

CHEMICAL
Sector Profile
The Chemical Sector—composed of a complex, global supply chain—converts various raw materials into diverse products that are essential to modern life. Based on the end product produced, the sector can be divided into five main segments, each of which has distinct characteristics, growth dynamics, markets, new developments, and issues: Basic chemicals; Specialty chemicals; Agricultural chemicals; Pharmaceuticals; Consumer products

Essential Workforce
• Workers supporting the chemical and industrial gas supply chains, including workers at chemical manufacturing plants, workers in laboratories, workers at distribution facilities, workers who transport basic raw chemical materials to the producers of industrial and consumer goods, including hand sanitizers, food and food additives, pharmaceuticals, textiles, and paper products.
• Workers supporting the safe transportation of chemicals, including those supporting tank truck cleaning facilities and workers who manufacture packaging items
• Workers supporting the production of protective cleaning and medical solutions, personal protective equipment, and packaging that prevents the contamination of food, water, medicine, among others essential products
• Workers supporting the operation and maintenance of facilities (particularly those with high risk chemicals and/ or sites that cannot be shut down) whose work cannot be done remotely and requires the presence of highly trained personnel to ensure safe operations, including plant contract workers who provide inspections
• Workers who support the production and transportation of chlorine and alkali manufacturing, single-use plastics, and packaging that prevents the contamination or supports the continued manufacture of food, water, medicine, and other essential products, including glass container manufacturing

DEFENSE INDUSTRIAL BASE
Sector Profile
The Defense Industrial Base Sector is the worldwide industrial complex that enables research and development, as well as design, production, delivery, and maintenance of military weapons systems, subsystems, and components or parts, to meet U.S. military requirements. The Defense Industrial Base partnership consists of Department of Defense components, Defense Industrial Base companies and their subcontractors who perform under contract to the Department of Defense, companies providing incidental materials and services to the Department of Defense, and government-owned/contractor-operated and government-owned/government-operated facilities. Defense Industrial Base companies include domestic and foreign entities, with production assets located in many countries. The sector provides products and services that are essential to mobilize, deploy, and sustain military operations.

Essential Workforce
• Workers who support the essential services required to meet national security commitments to the federal government and U.S. Military. These individuals include but are not limited to, aerospace; mechanical and software engineers, manufacturing/production workers; IT support; security staff; security personnel; intelligence support, aircraft and weapon system mechanics and maintainers
• Personnel working for companies, and their subcontractors, who perform under contract to the Department of Defense providing materials and services to the Department of Defense, and government-owned/contractor-operated and government-owned/government-operated facilities

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CARES ACT – New Law Helps Coronavirus-hit Employers, Workers – April 2020


THE $2 TRILLION Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act stimulus law has a number of provisions that employers and their workers need to know about and can take advantage of during this crisis.

The CARES Act aims to help workers and employers weather the outbreak by:
• Extending unemployment benefits.
• Requiring health plans to cover COVID-19-related costs.
• Providing Small Business Administration (SBA) emergency loans.
• Providing emergency loans for mid-sized and large companies.

Parts of the CARES Act will likely benefit your organization and employees in some way. Here’s what you need to know:

Extended unemployment

The CARES Act extends unemployment insurance benefits to workers, as long as they lost their jobs due to the outbreak.
Unemployment benefits under the CARES Act also apply to furloughed employees.
Workers in California will be able to collect both state unemployment and federal unemployment through the new law.
Under existing state law, workers who have lost their jobs can already receive regular unemployment benefits of between $40 and $450 per week, depending on their highest-earning quarter in a 12-month period beginning and ending before they apply for benefits with the state Employment Development Department. These benefits can last for up to 26 weeks.
The Pandemic Emergency Compensation program funded by the new law will provide an additional $600 per week on top of state unemployment benefits, through July 31.
The law extends state-level unemployment by an additional 13 weeks. For example, whereas most of California’s unemployment benefits last 26 weeks, the bill extends state benefits to 39 weeks.
The extended benefits will last through Dec. 31.

Health plan changes

Under the CARES Act, employer-sponsored group health plans must provide for covered workers – without cost-sharing or out-of-pocket expenses – the cost of COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccinations when and if they become available.

SBA loans

In response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, small business owners are eligible to apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan advance of up to $10,000.
This advance will provide economic relief to businesses that are currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue. Funds will be made available following a successful application. This loan advance will not have to be repaid.
This program is for any small business with fewer than 500 employees (including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and self-employed persons) as well as private non-profit organizations affected by COVID-19. You can find more information here.

And the law’s Paycheck Protection Program offers 1% interest loans to businesses with fewer than 500 workers. Borrowers who don’t lay off workers in the next eight weeks will have their loans forgiven, along with the interest. These loans are designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. If small businesses maintain payroll through this economic crisis, some of the borrowed money via the PPP can be forgiven – the funds will be available through June 30. Act fast.

Mid-sized employers

Under the new law, the Secretary of the Treasury is authorized to implement financial assistance programs that specifically target mid-size employers with between 500 and 10,000 employees.
Loans would not have an annualized interest rate higher than 2% and principal and interest would not be due and payable for at least six months after the loan is made. But unlike loans under the PPP, these are not forgivable.


CONSTRUCTION RISK – Why You Need ‘Key Man’ Insurance – April 2020


IF YOU are operating a small business, you are likely relying on a small staff to get the job done. Many employees in small firms have to wear many hats and if one of them or an owner should die, the business could suffer greatly from that sudden loss of talent. If you don’t have “key man” insurance, that setback could be devastating to the viability of your operations, whereas coverage would provide you with extra funding that you would need while recovering from the loss. Keyman insurance is life insurance on a key person or persons in a business. In a small business, this is usually the owner, a founder or perhaps a few vital employees. These are the people who are crucial to a business – the ones whose absence would sink the company. You need key man insurance on those people.

Key man insurance basics

Before buying coverage, give some thought to the effects on your company of possibly losing certain partners or employees. In opting for this type of coverage, your company would take out life insurance on the key individuals, pay the premiums and designate itself as the beneficiary of the policy. If that person unexpectedly dies, your company receives the claim payout. This payout would essentially allow your business to stay afloat as you recover from the sudden loss of that employee or partner, without whom it would be difficult to keep the business operating in the short term.

Your company can use the insurance proceeds for expenses until it can find a replacement person, or, if necessary, pay off debts, distribute money to investors, pay severance to employees and close the business down in an orderly manner. In other words, in the aftermath of this tragedy, the insurance would give you more options than immediate bankruptcy.

Determining whom to cover

Ask yourself: Who is irreplaceable in the short term? In many small businesses, it is the founder who holds the company together – he or she may keep the books, manage the employees, handle the key customers, and so on. If that person is gone, the business pretty much stops.

Determining amount of coverage

• The amount of coverage depends on your business and revenue.
• Think of how much money your business would need to survive until it could replace the key person, come up to speed and get the business back on its feet.
• Buy a policy that fits into your budget and will address your short-term cash needs in case of tragedy.
• Ask us to get some quotes from different insurers. • Check rates for different levels of coverage ($100,000, $500,000, etc.)


KEEPING OPERATIONS GOING – Tips for Successful Telecommuting – April 2020


WITH THE current isolation orders for most workers in California, many companies have had to scramble to put systems in place to allow their employees to telecommute. Many businesses are not set up for having employees work from home, and they have legitimate concerns about productivity and communications. But there are steps you can take to make sure that you keep your employees engaged and on task.

1. Make sure they have the right technology

If you don’t already have one, you may want to consider setting up a company VPN so your employees can access their work e-mail and databases. You will also need to decide if you are going
to provide them with a company laptop, and you need to make sure that they have an internet connection that is fast enough to handle their workload. Also provide an infrastructure for them to be able to work together on files. If they are not sensitive company documents, they can use Dropbox or Google Documents, which allow sharing between co-workers.

2. Provide clear instructions

It’s important that you provide clear instructions to remote workers. Some people do not perform well without direct oversight and human interaction. Without that factor, you will need to spell out your expectations and the parameters of the projects they are working on in detail. Make it clear that if they are confused or unsure about any part of the work, they should contact a supervisor for clarification. If you can eliminate misunderstandings, then your workers can be more efficient.

3. Schedule regular check-ins

To hold your employees accountable for being on the clock, schedule calls or virtual meetings at regular intervals. Even instant messaging works. During these meetings they can update their
superiors on their work. This also helps with productivity, since there are consequences for failing to meet expectations and coming to the meeting empty-handed. Their supervisors should be working when they are, so they can be in regular communication.

4. Keep employees engaged

One of the hardest parts of working from home is the feelings of isolation and detachment from colleagues. It’s important that you build in interactive time for your workers. One way to do that is by using a chat program like Slack, Hangouts or WhatsApp (which has a group chat function). For remote workers, these programs are a blessing because they make it easy to keep in touch with their colleagues in and out of the office – and they level the playing field, so to speak, by making distance a non-issue.

5. Cyber protection

With employees working from home, you also increase your cyber risk exposure, especially if they are using a company computer that is tapped into your firm’s database or cloud. Teach them cyber security best practices, such as:
• Not clicking on links in e-mails from unknown senders.
• Making sure their systems have the latest security updates.
• Backing up their data daily.
• Training them on how to detect phishing, ransomware
and malware scams, especially new ones that try to take advantage of people’s fears about COVID-19.


Double Down on Safety This New Year – January 2020 RISK REPORT


As the new year gets underway, now would be a good time to double down on your workplace safety efforts to see if there are any areas that you may be overlooking.
While your safety regimen may be top-notch, there is always room for improvement and you can consider these options as recommended by EHS Today:

Use a 10-second rule

Workers should consider using the 10-second rule before resuming a task after a break or disruption. During this time before resumption, the worker can conduct a mental hazard check, which EHS Today refers to as STEP:
S – Stop before resuming a job or beginning a new task.
T – Think about the task you are about to do.
E – Ensure potential hazards have been identified and mitigated.
P – Perform the job.

Take advantage of OSHA training

The OSHA Outreach Training Program provides training for workers and employers on the recognition, avoidance, abatement and prevention of safety and health hazards in workplaces. Through this program, workers can attend 10-hour or 30-hour classes delivered by OSHA-authorized trainers. The 10-hour class is intended for entry-level workers, while the 30-hour class is more appropriate for workers with some safety responsibility. Information is on OSHA’s website. Communicate with non-English-speaking workers Non-English-speaking laborers have more workplace accidents than their peers. The language barrier may keep them from reporting workplace hazards and they may not understand safety instructions.

If you have non-English-speaking workers:
• Ensure that training is fully understood.
• Try to get any safety training materials also printed up in Spanish, and other languages prevalent in your workplace.
• If you have one, provide them a contact in your organization that speaks their language, so that they can get answers to any questions they may have or to report concerns.

Urge employees to speak up

Let your workers know that there will be no retribution for reporting perceived workplace hazards, no matter how minor. You can also implement the third suggestion above, and reward employees that point out safety issues.

Make your training engaging

The best safety training programs are those that employees remember. Some good ways to make sure the information is retained include using real-life examples, story-telling, skits and strong video presentations.

Do more than OSHA requires

OSHA’s regulations are meant to be comprehensive, but every workplace is different and for a truly effective safety program you should fine-tune your safety requirements specifically for your workplace. In other words, you can go a step beyond what OSHA requires.

Watch each other’s back

You should also instill a sense of responsibility among your staff to look out for each other. If a worker sees another performing a job in an unsafe manner, they should step in to offer assistance. This can be done without being intrusive or confrontational.
Some good approaches include: “Hey, would you like me to watch out for your safety?” and “As you know, you need to be wearing cut-resistant gloves to perform that task.”


Top New Laws and Regs Affecting Businesses – January 2020 RISK REPORT


The new decade is starting off with a tsunami of new laws and regulations that will affect California businesses. Companies operating in California will have to be prepared for significant changes or open themselves up to potential litigation, fines, and other risks.

Here’s what you need to know coming into the new year:

1. AB 5

The controversial AB 5 creates a more stringent test for determining who is an independent contractor or employee in
California.  Known as the “ABC test,” the standard requires companies to prove that people working for them as independent contractors are:

A) Free from the firm’s control when working;
B) Doing work that falls outside the company’s normal business; and
C) Operating an independent business or trade beyond the job for which they were hired.

Legal experts recommend that employers:

• Perform a worker classification audit, and review all contracts with personnel.
• Notify any state agencies about corrections and changes to a
worker’s status.
• Discuss with legal counsel whether they should now also include them as employees for the purposes of payroll taxes, workers’ compensation insurance, federal income tax withholding, and FICA payment and withholding.

2. Wildfire safety regulations

Cal/OSHA issued emergency regulations that require employers of outdoor workers to take protective measures, including providing respiratory equipment, when air quality is significantly affected by wildfires. Under the new regs, when the Air Quality Index (AQI) for particulate matter 2.5 is more than 150, employers with workers who are outdoors are required to comply with the new rules. These include providing workers with protection like respirators, changing work schedules or moving them to a safe location.

3. Arbitration agreements

Starting Jan. 1, the state will bar almost all employee arbitration agreements. AB 51 bars employers from requiring
applicants, employees and independent contractors to sign mandatory arbitration agreements and waive rights to filing
lawsuits if they lodge a complaint for discrimination, harassment, wage and hour issues. Businesses groups sued to overturn the law on the grounds that it is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act.

4. Overtime rules

New federal overtime regulations are taking effect for non-exempt workers. Under the new rule, employers will be required to pay overtime to certain salaried workers who make less than $684 per week – or $35,568 per year – up from the current threshold of $455, or $23,660 in annual salary.

5. Consumer privacy

Starting Jan. 1, under the California Consumer Protection Act, businesses that keep personal data of residents are required to safeguard that information and inform website users how their personal data may be used. The law applies to firms with $25 million or more in annual revenues or those that sell personal information as part of their business.

6. Return of the individual mandate

A new law brings back the individual mandate requiring Californians at least to secure health insurance coverage or face tax penalties. This comes after the penalties for not abiding by the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate were abolished by Congress in late 2017. Starting in 2020, California residents are required to have health insurance or pay excess taxes. This will affect any of your staff who have opted out of your group health plan as it may mean they are going without coverage, unless they have opted to be covered by their spouse’s plan. If you have staff who didn’t enroll in your plan for 2020, they may have to wait until your group’s next open enrollment at the end of the year. That could force them to pay tax penalties.

7. New audit, X-Mod thresholds

The threshold for physical workers’ compensation audits for California policies incepting on or after Jan. 1 is $10,500 in annual premium, a drop from $13,000. This means that any employer with an annual workers’ comp premium of $10,500 or more will be subject to a physical audit at least once a year. On top of that, the threshold for experience rating (to have an X-Mod) has also fallen – to $9,700 in annual premium as of Jan. 1, from $10,000.

8. Harassment training partly pushed back

Employers with five or more workers were required to conduct sexual harassment prevention training for their staff by the end of 2019 under a California law passed in 2018. A new law extends the compliance deadline for some employers who had already conducted training prior to 2019. The original law, SB 1343, required all employers with five or more staff to conduct sexual harassment prevention training to their employees before Jan. 1, 2020 – and every two years after that. If you have never trained your staff, you should have done so in 2019.

But if you have, here are the new rules:
• If you trained your staff in 2019, you aren’t required to provide refresher training until two years from the time the employee was trained.
• If you trained your staff in 2018, you can maintain the two-year cycle and comply with the new Jan. 1, 2021 deadline. You did not have to repeat the training in 2019.

9. Hairstyle discrimination

A new law makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees and job applicants based on their hairstyle if it is part of their racial makeup. The CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair), defines race or ethnicity as “inclusive of traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to hair texture and protective hairstyles like braids, locks, and twists.” This new definition of race means that natural hair traits fall under the context of racial discrimination in housing, employment and school matters.

10. Reporting serious injuries

A new law broadens the scope of what will be classified as a serious illness or injury which regulations require employers to report to Cal/OSHA “immediately.” The new rules being implemented by AB 1805 are designed to bring California’s rules more in line with Federal OSHA’s regulations for reporting. It will mean that some injuries that were not reportable before will be, such as:
• Any inpatient hospitalization for treatment of a workplace injury or illness will need to be reported to Cal/OSHA.
• An inpatient hospitalization must be required for something “other than medical observation or diagnostic testing.”
• Employers will need to report any “amputation” to Cal/OSHA. This replaces the terminology “loss of member.” Even if the tip of a finger is cut off, it’s considered an amputation. As of yet, there is no effective date for this new law, as enabling regulations have to be written – a process that will start this year.