COVID-19: Your Safe and Smart Response


Employers are rightly concerned about the growing risk of COVID-19 infection throughout California and the country. You can keep employees’ fears in check by providing proactive information and having response steps in place.

Awareness and Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published a very helpful guide for businesses, which describes the best things employers can do to keep workplaces safe:

  • Encourage/require employees who are sick to stay home.
  • Instruct all supervisors to keep an eye out for employees who exhibit symptoms (fever, respiratory distress, etc.) and send them home right away.
  • Instruct all employees to wash their hands frequently with soap and/or use hand sanitizer.
  • Clean and sanitize frequently-touched areas such as doorknobs and light switches, and common areas such as break rooms, conferences rooms, and restrooms more frequently.
  • If employees have planned international travel, advise them to check the CDC’s Traveler Health Notices for the most up-to-date guidance.

Employee Illness

If an employee believes he/she may have been exposed to COVID-19 or shows symptoms consistent with infection, the CDC recommends the following:

  • Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (100.4° F or greater using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (e.g. cough suppressants).
  • Do not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work, as healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely way.

Healthcare Workers

Certain healthcare employers such as hospitals, skilled nursing homes, and homeless shelters have additional responsibilities to protect employees from infectious disease. If your organization is covered by the Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) standard you may access specific Cal-OSHA guidance.

Employee Time Off and Office Closure

In the event that an office closure is recommended, plan ahead to determine which employees may be able to work from home, if any. By having a plan in place, you can minimize employee confusion and encourage as much of a “business as usual” approach as possible. If non-exempt employees will be working from home, remind them of their responsibility to accurately record work hours and take appropriate rest and meal periods. You are not required to pay non-exempt employees for periods when they are not working, but exempt employees must receive the full salary for any workweek in which they perform work.

California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) has provided updated information regarding benefits eligibility based on the reason an employee is away from work.


HR Headliner: December 2019

HR Headliner

It’s time for our third annual installment of “just when you thought you’d heard it all” stories from the world of HR. We know you work hard every day to protect your business and advocate for your employees, and it’s nice to know you’re not alone in the craziness that happens! Here are a few lighthearted reports we’ve gathered from around the interwebs.

“One of the senior executives at my company called me into his office very early in the morning, and informed me that I was to lay off a particular employee that day. I was quite surprised since this employee had been part of the firm for several years and was generally regarded as a very hard worker. But having just started on the job a few weeks ago, I didn’t question the decision and had a brief chat with the employee in question, who then proceeded to pack up her things and leave the office. Later that afternoon, the senior executive approached me and asked why the person I was supposed to fire was still on the premises. I looked at who he was pointing to and was puzzled. I told him that he had asked me to fire someone else. There were actually three people at the office who had the same first name, and it turned out that, in his haste and morning stupor, he asked me to lay off the wrong person!”

“My company hired a new paralegal, and by 11:30am on his first day I got a call saying he needed to be fired. What could he have had done? Picked a fight? Destroyed the IT system? Propositioned the CEO? No… it turns out, on his first day of employment, the guy had strolled over to the break room fridge and calmly eaten three employees’ lunches! By 11:30! When he was confronted about it, the man claimed he thought the lunches were for ‘general consumption’.”

And speaking of break room drama… check out this fake but hilarious fridge-note war created by the folks at College Humor.com. (Be sure to scroll all the way through!)

“I used to manage a Blockbuster and after one particularly awful interview I walked the candidate out toward the parking lot and the alarms went off. It turned out he stuffed three DVDs in his suit jacket before being called back to the office. He did not get the job. Or Mama Mia, Fool’s Gold, or High School Musical 3, for that matter.”


The Interactive Process is a Two-Way Street

HR Headliner

“A situation or relationship involving mutual or reciprocal action or obligation.”
~ Oxford Dictionary

Most California employers are well-versed in the requirement to engage in an interactive process and provide reasonable accommodations for an employee’s disability. We also understand that our decision making should generally err on the side of the employee to minimize legal risk. However, all of this knowledge can sometimes create an overabundance of caution and “accommodations” in work schedule or performance without requiring the employee to do his/her part.

For example, an employee states that his supervisor’s strict expectations are causing debilitating stress… or a food service worker avoids eye contact with restaurant guests because she feels that looking downward keeps her anxiety levels low. These are real situations in which the employer wondered if there was a legal responsibility to accommodate the employee’s stated health condition. And the answer is… it depends.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides extensive guidance on how to provide reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and both the employer and employee have their own roles to play. Employees and applicants have specific responsibility to cooperate in the interactive process, to provide information about the disability and limitations, and to provide requested medical certification of the need for accommodation.

This means that in order to approve a reduced work schedule, a leave of absence, or modified job duties, a manger can (and should) ask the employee to submit a doctor’s note indicating 1) which of the essential functions of the job he/she is unable to perform, 2) accommodations that will allow the employee to perform those functions, and 3) the expected duration of the accommodations. Both parties should be willing to talk about the doctor’s recommendations, the employee’s and employer’s preferences, and explore other possible measures that might provide equal employment opportunity. According to the EEOC, “failure on the part of the employee to cooperate in the interactive process may result in a denial of the reasonable accommodation request” and the employee can (and should) be held accountable for the same standards of attendance and performance as others.

YES, it is always important to be responsive to employees’ requests regarding health conditions and to inform them of their rights and responsibilities under federal and state law. YES, you should be cautious when navigating employee disability issues and consult an attorney when in doubt. And YES, it is okay to insist that your employee do his/her part in the interactive process, rather than feel compelled to approve one-way demands.


Workplace Violence: Plan, Prevent, Protect


It is a sad and unfortunate reality in our world today that a violent incident could happen in the workplace at any time. The idea of preparing for an active shooter or similar situation may feel overwhelming, but avoidance will only result in greater fear and confusion. Below are general suggestions for creating a workplace violence program. Your thoughtful preparation, employee training, and partnering with outside experts could literally save lives in the event of an emergency.


  • Develop a Workplace Violence Policy that clearly defines unacceptable behavior, requires timely reporting of suspected violations, and describes how concerns will be investigated and resolved. The policy should include guidelines for reporting domestic violence matters and personal restraining orders. It should also guarantee privacy and non-retaliation for employees who make good-faith reports.
  • Establish a Threat Management Team to take the lead on investigations and coordinate incident response, if needed. Team members could include Human Resources, legal counsel, and other employees who could effectively respond to a concern or security event.
  • Establish training plans for all managers and employees regarding your company policy, how to report concerns, and how each person should respond in an emergency situation. Members of management should receive additional training to recognize warning signs and mediate employee disputes.


  • Consider offering an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) to make a wide variety of health and wellness resources available to your staff. Employees who have exhibited concerning behaviors may be referred to the EAP for confidential counseling.
  • Respond immediately and effectively to signs of problematic behavior or concerns expressed by employees. There is no “profile” to identify likely perpetrators of workplace violence, so management must take all situations seriously. Request the assistance of a workplace violence consultant to support an investigation and recommend appropriate action, when needed.
  • Ensure prompt disciplinary action and security follow-up when an employee’s behavior is severe or does not improve. A leave of absence, suspension, or termination may be appropriate depending on the circumstances.
  • Take necessary steps to protect employees who are victims of domestic violence as well as other staff members who may encounter the alleged abuser. This may include securing a temporary restraining order or discreetly posting a photo of the aggressor in locations with public access.


  • In the event of a workplace violence emergency, the Threat Management Team and/or security staff should implement your pre-determined response plan. Call 9-1-1 immediately but recognize that actions taken by on-site personnel will have significant impact on the outcome of the situation.
  • Move employees to a safer location, and prevent the attacker from moving to other areas of the building whenever possible.
  • Account for all personnel and determine any who may still need help.
  • Administer first aid to injured employees, if this can be done without placing victims or rescuers in further danger.
  • Comply with emergency responders’ instructions.

Contact legal counsel, safety experts, or a workplace violence consultant for additional information, training, and support for your workplace violence prevention program.


August 2019: The Case for Background Investigations

HR Headliner

These statements, and many others like them, were recently posted by job seekers on a public Indeed forum, and are enough to scare even the most seasoned hiring manager.

It may be hard to believe that the professional-looking candidate sitting across from you is anything other than honest and forthcoming, but according to a 2017 HireRight survey, 85% of employers have found inaccuracies on a job application.

Additionally, California law prohibits seeking information about criminal convictions until after a conditional job offer has been made. An employer can no longer use questions about conviction histories on application forms or in the interview process to screen job candidates.

So if you can’t always trust the application and you can’t ask direct questions in the interview, how do you ensure a new employee has the right skills or education and doesn’t pose a threat to safety and security?

The solution is a consistent, legally-compliant background investigation program.

Smart employers plan their hiring process to include verification of job qualifications such as education and past experience, and post-offer criminal records searches.

These steps are a relatively small investment of time and money and could save your company significant amounts of both if you avoid hiring an individual who is unqualified or unsafe.

Sierra HR Partners would be happy to discuss our background investigation services and pricing with you. Our web site provides additional details or you may contact us for more information!