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  • Going Into a Post-COVID Unknown

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    June 15th. That was the day we all waited for. The day that California finally reopened after 15 of the worst months in our state’s history. We looked forward to that day, assuming businesses would be able to throw open their doors, and the world would go back to normal.

    But we still have more questions than answers. The governor said the state would lift all restrictions, but there were some noticeably big caveats that still leave California’s businesses and residents in the dark.

    One of the most important questions we have is about the continued state of emergency, which did not sunset on June 15th. Dozens of executive orders and bills that impact employees and businesses won’t expire until the state of emergency ends at some mythical and elusive unknown date. What could that mean for the business community?

    One example is that, if any employee, whether it’s one who is vaccinated or one who refuses a vaccine, catches COVID-19, they can file a workers compensation claim. Even further, the presumption is that they caught it at work, rather than at the gathering they may have recklessly participated in with their unvaccinated friends. You, the employer, will have to try – and probably fail – to prove your business’ innocence, leaving you on the hook for all the financial liabilities.

    This is extremely burdensome for employers, but it doesn’t stop there.

    The June 15th declaration caused uncertainty for businesses – uncertainty about rules, uncertainty about who’s in charge, uncertainty about legality, and uncertainty about differences in rules for our county.

    Just look at the Cal/OSHA regulations. On June 3rd, 12 days before the reopening of the economy, the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board re-adopted the COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards and Revised Standards for workplaces. These standards relaxed some workplace requirements, but they also created new burdens for employers.

    Under these newly adopted standards, which have since been rescinded, employees would have been required to wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status if just one of their colleagues has chosen to go unvaccinated. Employers would have still been required to track workers’ vaccination status, even as many employers are unsure of the cost and litigation that will come with this. Further, employers would have needed to provide N95 masks for all unvaccinated employees, as well as provide COVID-19 testing available at no cost, during paid time, to all employees who had “close contact” in the workplace.

    There is a clear trend with these policies – punishing businesses for the decisions of their workers, with no enforcement, encouragement, or consequences for employees who choose to refuse vaccines.

    The interesting part is that the state had adopted these suffocating standards against the recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We have stuck so closely to the scientific recommendations this entire pandemic, risking our businesses, our economies, and our livelihoods. But when the recommendations finally tilt in favor of reopening, any hope of survival was quickly dashed by a sitting board who believes that they are mightier than the scientific community.

    After receiving the obvious backlash from employees and employers alike, the board decided to scrap these standards, meaning that the current, and more restrictive temporary standards, voted on by the board in November, will remain in place until the end of June, even after the state has “reopened.”

    These Cal/OSHA regulations will heavily affect the re-emergence of businesses. Governor Gavin Newsom holds power to overrule the board with an executive order, but he has been unwilling to do so, even though he continues to tout his flexibility and positive steps towards recovery for all but the businesses that fuel our economy.

    By the time you are reading this, these concerns might not be a problem. The governor might end the state of emergency. The Cal/OSHA restrictions might be revised. Everything might be open again and everything will return back to normal. Who knows, by the time this article is published, we could have already forgotten what COVID-19 means. Probably not, though. With our experience with the state, we have little hope.

    Therefore, we need to continue advocating for our future. The issues, inconsistencies, and problems are urgent, and the business community desperately needs them to be resolved. The fight didn’t stop on June 15th, nor should we let it.


    Stuart Waldman is president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a business advocacy organization based in Van Nuys that represents employers in the San Fernando Valley at the local, state, and federal levels of government.


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