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California’s Employer Playbook For A Safe Re-Opening

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By Cynthia Elkins

On July 24, 2020, the California Department of Public Health released its Employer Playbook For a Safe Reopening providing a summary of information, links and general guidance for California employers related to COVID-19 and safely re-opening business operations.  

The Playbook, which consists of 32 pages, provides a consolidated resource for finding links to various additional state and local resources and provides checklists and an overview of the actions that employers should undertake to provide for a safe workplace for re-opening.

The Playbook can be found here:–en.pdf

The topics covered include How to Open Safely, What to Do If There Is A Case Of Covid-19 in the Workplace, Enforcement and Compliance, and Worker Education.   The Appendices include a comprehensive list of Resources, Enforcement and Compliance Contacts and some “case studies.”  Below is a summary of the guidance contained in the Playbook.


The following steps are required that businesses must undertake before re-opening:

  • Perform a detailed risk assessment and create a specific COVID-19 prevention plan
  • Set up individual control measures and screenings
  • Put disinfection protocols in place
  • Establish physical distancing guidelines
  • Establish universal face covering requirements (with allowed exceptions) in accordance with CDPH guidelines.  The Playbook provides guidance for employers and workers in enforcing mask requirements


The Playbook details the steps that employers should take to manage an “outbreak” and requirements for returning to work.   The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and Cal/OSHA have issued state wide Industry-Specific Guidance and Checklists ( to help employers as they re-open their businesses.


The section that likely is the most helpful is the section on steps to undertake to have employees return to work and includes the chart of what to do depending on whether the workers is Symptomatic Positive, Asymptomatic Positive, Symptomatic Negative, Asymptomatic Negative and Symptomatic Untested, Asymptomatic Untested or unable to be tested,  which was published by the CDC.


Recording Cases of COVID-19

If a work-related COVID-19 case meets one of the below criteria, then covered employers in California must record the case on their 300, 300A and 301 or equivalent forms.

• Death
• Days away from work
• Restricted work or transfer to another job
• Medical treatment beyond first aid
• Loss of consciousness, or
• A significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional

Reporting COVID-19 cases to Cal/OSHA

Employers must also report to Cal/OSHA any serious illness, serious injury or death of a worker that occurred at work or in connection with work, within eight hours of when they knew or should have known of the illness. This includes a COVID-19 illness if it meets the definition of serious illness which includes, among other things, any illness occurring in a place of employment or in connection with any employment that requires inpatient hospitalization for other than medical observation or diagnostic testing.

Reportable illnesses are not limited to instances when the worker becomes ill at work. Serious illnesses include illnesses contracted “in connection with any employment”, which can include those contracted in connection with work but with symptoms that begin to appear outside of work.


The Playbook outlines the following leaves that may be available to employees:

  • California Family Rights Act (CFRA)
  • Paid Sick Leave – California and/or Local Paid Sick Leave ordinances
  • FFRCA Paid Sick Leave of 80 hours
  • State Disability Insurance and Paid Family Leave (PFL)
  • Regular and Pandemic Unemployment Benefits
  • Workers Compensation, which pursuant to a recent Executive Order by Governor Newsome, provides that certain workers who contracted a COVID-19 related illness between March 19 and July 5, 2020 are presumed to have contracted the illness at work and are presumptively entitled to workers compensation benefits.

The Playbook provides checklists under each topic above.

Employers should also keep in mind how many of these entitlements and protections intersect and additional obligations employers have under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).


The Playbook provides an explanation of the California COVID-19 Task Force, which has been created to monitor and enforce violation of California’s statutes and orders. The agencies included in the task force are: Alcoholic Beverage Control Department (ABC), Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), and others. Contact information for each of these agencies is provided in Appendix B of the Playbook.


The Playbook provides an email address within the CDPH for employers to make any inquiries about whether a specific workplace activity is allowed:

Employers should find the contents of the Playbook helpful in addressing and locating the relevant information and guidance from the numerous state, federal and local agencies for the situations they are facing and will continue to encounter on a daily basis regarding COVID-19 related workplace issues.

Cynthia Elkins is the principal of Elkins Employment Law, founded in 1998, and represents employers in all aspects of employment litigation and personnel/human resource compliance issues. The emphasis is on being preventative and proactive to avoid disputes and provide clients with “best practices.” You can reach Cynthia by e-mail at

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