As most everyone is by now aware, Los Angeles officials, both at the County and City level, have issued additional COVID-related restrictions on almost all industries, such that everyone living and/or working in L.A. is now operating in lockdown “Round 2” and is being told to basically – just stay home! A question we have repeatedly received from Los Angeles-based clients in the past few days is what this second lockdown means for office worksites, and especially those that had previously required some, if not all (depending on whether an office was/was not deemed “essential”) workers to actually go into the office on a daily basis. As previously reported, on November 19, Los Angeles County limited indoor capacity of essential office worksites to 25% of maximum occupancy, and a few days earlier capped in-person meetings at these sites to a maximum of 15 people, with physical distancing and other restrictions in place during these meetings. The City of Los Angeles mirrored this requirement on December 2 with its own order, and stated that, subject to limited exceptions, all businesses within the City of Los Angeles are ordered to cease operations that require in-person attendance by workers at a workplace. The City order also stated that non-essential sectors may only conduct minimum basic operations at the office worksite, and may not have more than 25% occupancy at the site for those functions. “Minimum Basic Operations” include inventory, security, custodial services, payroll and employee benefits processing, and any reasonable activity designed to maximize the ability for its employees to work remotely from their homes. Non-essential businesses conducting minimum basic operations are required to ensure that their doors remain closed and locked to the public at all times.
Additional County restrictions were also imposed on L.A.-based worksites on December 3. Notably, offices must now ensure that for at least the next two weeks face masks are worn by employees working in cubicles (including cubicles equipped with partitions), employees must maintain a 6-foot distance from each other when eating or drinking and do so outdoors (to the greatest extent possible) or at least not in breakrooms, frequently touched items and bathrooms must be disinfected hourly and employees and visitors must be asked whether they are under isolation or quarantine orders during the screening process.
The clear takeaway from these recent L.A. orders is that teleworking should be instituted whenever possible but, if it is not feasible and an office had been deemed an essential worksite, the number of workers present at one time must be significantly limited, and safety precautions (i.e. targeted screening questions, rigorous face mask adherence and social distancing measures) must be strictly enforced.
For those which operate businesses that are deemed essential, this means you are expected to reduce the number of employees and contractors who are in the office at any one time. A number of our clients have said they cannot operate at 25% maximum capacity. Given the current orders, it would seem prudent to explore attendance in the office in shifts and other means by which to comply. Whereas the some of the Bay Area counties voluntarily when to Round 2 even before their ICU capacity fell below the 15% availability standard, the Los Angeles County and San Joaquin areas are already below that ICU availability, and so compliance is now mandatory. While there is certainly room to raise questions about why certain industries are permitted to continue operating, even with reduced capacity, it is clear the infection rate from the virus is staggering and is projected to continue rising absent further preventive steps. Even the CDC now says that wearing a facemask while in your work cubicle is necessary. It would, therefore, be prudent for employers to consider revisions to their COVID compliance policies and procedures to meet the new County and City requirements and thereby further protect the health of their workers.