By Kim L. Hunter
It’s difficult to try to understand how much the world has changed in just one short year. What started off as sheltering in place, attempting to master the art of baking sourdough bread from scratch, soon turned into unprecedented loss in every sense of the word.
From loss of life to loss of employment and subsequent wages, millions of Americans continue to experience hardship as a direct result of the COVID-19 health pandemic nearly one year later.
The pandemic has wreaked havoc on California’s economy, leading to an increase in unemployment rates previously seen only during the Great Depression. Businesses of all shapes and sizes have been impacted, with many owners still facing challenges to adapt to the current health and economic climate. Business owners are also faced with the reality of potentially making incredibly difficult decisions about the future of their business as the pandemic continues to rage on.
Workers in predominately African American/Black and Hispanic/Latinx communities in particular continue to be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. According to a report by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, people of color are more likely to work in jobs that are not amenable to teleworking, thus putting them at greater risk for exposure to COVID-19. This underscores the importance of ensuring California workers are aware of their rights and employers aware of their responsibilities in providing a safe work environment.
As a proud minority-owned and operated business owner of more than 30 years, like countless other employers, I am all too familiar with the ongoing challenge of ensuring the health and safety of my employees during these extraordinary times. As a current resident of Santa Barbara, my thoughts are especially with the small business owners in the Tri-Counties who have worked tirelessly and continue to dedicate countless hours in order to quickly adapt, while also maintaining the welfare of their employees and customers.
The gravity of the impact the pandemic has caused business owners, its employees and their families cannot be understated. As government relief continues to make its way toward businesses across the country, I encourage employers and employees alike to also take advantage of every available state and local resource for guidance on COVID-19.
It is critical for workers to stay informed in order to understand their rights, and for employers to be aware of their responsibilities, including implementing safety measures to prevent COVID-19 exposure and transmission.
In response to the pandemic, the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency, an executive branch agency that provides leadership to protect and improve the well-being of California’s current and future workforce, alongside its Department of Industrial Relations, has provided California workers and employers with resources and information to learn more about workers’ rights and employers’ obligations to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 at work.
The Department of Industrial Relations, which protects and improves the health, safety, and economic well-being of over 18 million wage earners and helps employers comply with state labor laws, offers additional COVID-19 employer and employee resources, including:
• Under its Cal/OSHA division, DIR launched an online training academy for both workers and employers to get further training on proper health and safety policies related to COVID-19. The academy provides guidance, educational materials, and other resources that employers comply with requirements and to provide workers information on how to protect themselves and prevent the spread of the disease.
• The Labor Commissioner’s Office recently launched a Supplemental Paid Sick Leave navigator to help workers determine if they are eligible and a toll-free hotline for reporting sick leave violations.
The ultimate goal of the California LWDA and the DIR is to slow the spread of COVID-19 through employer and worker education, engagement, and enforcement for business of all industries.
As we rapidly approach the one-year mark in which the world was forced to abruptly hit pause and caused businesses to reset, it is critical for employers to continue to prioritize the health and safety of its workers and communities. I remain optimistic that the insurmountable loss endured at the start of this decade will soon be a period in time in which we were able to work together and persevere.
• Kim L. Hunter is CEO of Lagrant Communications, a Los Angeles-based firm that does public relations work for the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency. He is also chairman and CEO at The Lagrant Foundation and managing partner at KLH & Associates.