Employers in California have been feeling increased pressure recently, as a string of companies was fined nearly $80,000 by the state’s Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) for allegedly being unable to secure employees from the risks of Covid-19. The Primex Farms’ Wasco pistachio and almond processing plant was cited as having “no plan to protect workers or failing to properly train them”. The accusations include employees not adhering to the recommended physical distance, there not being a satisfactory sanitation system, as well as there being workers choosing not to wear facemasks.
The penalties issued in December include charges of $27,500 each against Primex Farms LLC in Los Angeles and United Staffing Associates LLC in San Luis Obispo, then $11,250 each for H&R Labor Contracting LLC in Bakersfield and Jacobo Farm Labor Services in Selma. According to Primex Farms, thirty-one workers tested positive for coronavirus towards the end of June last year – but this number was contested by the union, which claims that positive cases rose to 80 in early July and that 36 positive cases from workers’ family members were not included in the count. The companies denied these accusations and insisted that they were all compliant with California’s Covid-19 policies.
So for now, it seems that employers must be vigilant as the Covid-craziness continues to unravel. Congress is expected to enter another period of debate regarding Covid laws – and while some politicians are looking to help business owners make sense of the mess, there are those that intend to push accountability towards employers. If your business has not or cannot fully switch to a remote work reality, then the best advice would be for businesses to ensure their compliance by keeping an eye on the DIR website, having an open line of communication with DIR representatives, and consulting your legal team on a regular basis.
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