As America’s COVID-19 cases climb, reaching record numbers of new infections throughout the nation, employers continue to face challenges around how to prevent and respond to cases among their workforce.
When an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19 and was present in the workplace or may have exposed other workers, contract tracing and notification can help limit the spread of the disease and allow employees to take precautionary measures or access coronavirus-specific benefits.
COVID-19 exposure notifications are recommended by the CDC and leading HR organizations. And, starting on January 1, 2021, it’s the law in California.
For organizations looking to meet these new requirements, legal hold software can provide a convenient “hack,” allowing businesses to inform employees of potential exposure quickly, ensure acknowledgment, and track, document, and preserve their efforts.
What California’s COVID-19 Employee Notification Law Requires
This past September, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law AB 685, which updates California’s Labor Code with new COVID-19 notification requirements.
Under AB 685, employers who have received notice of potential COVID-19 exposure must inform any employees and employers of subcontractors who may have been exposed to the virus in the workplace. Notice to the employees’ exclusive bargaining representative is also required.
What counts as notice to the employer of COVID-19 exposure? The law provides four definitions: notification from a public health official or medical provider that an employee was exposed; notification from an employee or their emergency contact that the employee as diagnosed, ordered to isolate, or deceased due to COVID-19; notification through the employer’s own testing protocol; and/or notification from a subcontractor that a qualifying individual was on the worksite.
The law also includes specific requirements as to what the employee exposure notice must contain. “Hey, you might want to get tested for COVID,” isn’t going to cut it. According to the law, the notice must include:
“…information regarding COVID-19-related benefits to which the employee may be entitled under applicable federal, state, or local laws, including, but not limited to, workers’ compensation, and options for exposed employees, including COVID-19-related leave, company sick leave, state-mandated leave, supplemental sick leave, or negotiated leave provisions, as well as anti-retaliation and anti-discrimination protections of the employee.”
Employers must also provide information on their disinfection and safety plan.
California’s employee exposure notices must be in writing and may be delivered via personal service, email, or text message.
Once an employer has learned of potential exposure, they have just one business day to distribute exposure notifications to their employees, subcontractors, and bargaining representatives. Those notifications must also be preserved for at least three years.
How to Notify Employees of Potential COVID-19 Exposure
California’s new COVID-19 notification law requires swift action on the part of employers. And justifiably so. To lessen the spread of the disease and allow exposed workers to receive testing and treatment, fast action is necessary.
But for employers who have to notify a large group of people, distributing those notifications and retaining the proper records can be challenging.
Employers will want to document not only that notifications were sent and met the requirements of the law, but, ideally, that they were received and acknowledged. And they will want to document this process sufficiently so that, should their compliance be challenged years later, they have easy access to those records.
There are tools that many organizations already have on hand that can be repurposed to fit just this need—tools like legal hold software.
Legal hold software, while not created with pandemics in mind, can be used to distribute notices to a wide group of people, creating a record both of when the notice was sent, what it contained, and when or if it was acknowledged.
Legal holds, or litigation holds, were designed to put individuals on notice that a lawsuit was anticipated and to instruct them on what to do going forward—namely, to preserve any documents that may be potentially relevant to the dispute. Legal hold software, like Logikcull Hold, allows users to automate that process, allowing you to send templatized messages to any number of individuals, track their delivery, and have those messages acknowledged by the recipient.
Indeed, clever users of legal hold software are already using it for this very purpose. To make COVID-19 employee exposure notices even easier, Logikcull Hold provides two COVID-19 notification templates that businesses may use and customize, one generic template and one specific to California’s requirements.
routine document retention/destruction policy and put in place a 'litigation hold' to ensure the preservation of relevant documents."
Tracking Your COVID-19 Notifications
Under the California law, businesses must retain notification records for three years. But whether you are required to comply with the California law or simply following CDC guidelines and best practices by notifying employees of exposure, retaining records of your notification is highly recommended, should any workers compensation claims, litigation, or other related matters arise in the future.
Aside from retention, you may also want to record that notifications were delivered and received, to help ensure compliance and make sure that recipients have been properly notified. There are a variety of ways you can track this, from written acknowledgments to delivering notice by certified mail to sending notifications with a read-receipt request. However, these methods may prove difficult to manage, particularly when dealing with a large number of notices or recipients and without a system in place to centralize your data.
Again, a legal hold tool may help solve these problems.
These tools often include the ability to acknowledge your hold or exposure message, as the case may be, with the click of a button. Those acknowledgments are tracked in a centralized database, so you can see exactly who acknowledged the message and when. If a message goes unacknowledged, you can send automated follow-up reminders as frequently as you chose. That means no manual follow up, no check-ins, no uncertainty around whether or not someone has received and accepted your message.
By automating your notice process and keeping that data centralized, teams can easily report on everything from who was notified and when to what the notification contained and when or if it was acknowledged, all within a single system of record.
COVID-19 has posed innumerable challenges since it emerged at the beginning of the year—and even with the hope of a vaccine on the horizon, those challenges are likely to remain for years ahead. Exposure tracking and notification, like that required by California’s new law, will hopefully go a long way toward containing the virus and its spread.
With the right tools, these new requirements should not significantly add to the burden businesses have already faced responding to the virus.
If you would like to see how Logikcull Hold may be useful for your employee notifications or to see if you qualify for a free Logikcull Hold trial, please reach out here.