LA County Moves To Permit Employee Reporting of Workplace Non-Compliance With COVID-19 Safety Regs

COVID-19 Update

On July 21, 2020, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion coauthored by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas to direct various County departments to develop a framework intended to facilitate employee reporting of violations of local COVID-19 public health orders in the workplace. The motion also notes, and the Supervisors stressed during discussions, the importance of employees feeling empowered to report violations “without fear of retaliation.”

The motion makes the first step toward the development of worker-led “public health councils.” Third-party worker and community-based organizations will have the opportunity to obtain County certifications to “monitor, document and report any violations of the County’s [public health orders] and guidelines.” Further, the worker-led councils will “serve as the intermediary between the public health councils and the [Department of Public Health].”

While the specific composition of each council will be developed, the motion seeks consultation with “labor representatives, worker advocates and business community representatives.” The Supervisors were not specific about any particular entities, organizations or other community representatives that will be consulted. Presumably, Board offices and the County CEO will play an important role in making these decisions given the central role these representatives will have in the design of any reporting system.

During discussion on the motion, the Supervisors noted that the County’s enforcement resources were limited, and that the County needs to find “more ways to enforce, and that means to identify, those businesses that are in violation of these directives.” While the Board acknowledged that most businesses have been diligent in trying to comply with state and county COVID-19 regulations, it has been disappointing that others have not done so. Board Chair Supervisor Kathryn Barger noted that “compliance is going to be the key to reopening” and that “we have to collectively ensure that bad actors are called out, and if necessary shut down.”

The motion has several immediate impacts for businesses operating in the County:

  • The development of “health councils” will likely heighten the need to both ensure and document compliance with state and county Health Officer Orders and safety regulations related to COVID-19. 
  • Where applicable, businesses should work with their employees, including union representation in unionized businesses, to communicate required safety protocols and compliance efforts. Both state and county guidance requires the posting of COVID-19 information and compliance documents, and businesses should ensure that they are following all such requirements. 
  • Large employers will need to grapple with employees who do not conform with existing compliance programs developed by businesses.
  • Employers should be aware of prohibitions on retaliation for employees who report potential non-compliance with COVID-19 Health Orders and safety regulations, and should take care not to tie employment to involvement in the proposed “health councils” or similar efforts.
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