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California workers will be legally protected during emergency conditions

Effective January 2023, state law will prohibit employers from taking adverse action against employees who refuse to report to work due to conditions of extreme peril

November 14, 2022 887

Quick Summary:

California law will prohibit employers from taking or threatening retaliatory action against any eligible employee who leaves or refuses to report to a workplace during an emergency condition if either of the following applies: (1) the workplace is in an emergency-affected area and the employee has a reasonable belief that the workplace or worksite is unsafe or (2) the employee has been ordered to evacuate their home, workplace or worksite or their child’s school has been ordered to evacuate due to natural disaster or a criminal act.

Most employees in California, including dental professionals, will gain legal protections during emergency situations when a state law takes effect Jan. 1, 2023. 

Senate Bill 1044, signed into law in September by Gov. Gavin Newsom, will prohibit employers from taking or threatening retaliatory action against any eligible employee who leaves or refuses to report to a workplace during an emergency condition if either of the following applies:

  • The workplace is in an emergency-affected area and the employee has a reasonable belief that the workplace or worksite is unsafe; or
  • The employee has been ordered to evacuate their home, workplace or worksite or their child’s school has been ordered to evacuate due to natural disaster or a criminal act. 

Employers also cannot prevent any employee from accessing their mobile or other communications device to seek emergency assistance, determine the safety of the situation or communicate with a person to confirm their safety. 

Certain workers, including first responders, disaster service workers, employees of licensed residential care facilities, employees or contractors who support patient care during emergencies or who are required to participate in emergency response and employees working on a military base, are not protected under the SB 1044.  

Employees will be required under the law to notify their employer, when feasible, of the emergency condition that requires them to leave or refuse to report to the workplace or worksite as defined. When not feasible, the employee may notify the employer as soon as possible after leaving or not reporting to work.

Defining ‘emergency condition’ and ‘reasonable belief’

A health pandemic, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, is not an “emergency condition” under the new law.

The law defines emergency condition as “conditions of disaster or extreme peril to the safety of persons or property at the workplace or worksite caused by natural forces or a criminal act” or “an order to evacuate a workplace, a worksite, a worker’s home, or the school of a worker’s child due to natural disaster or a criminal act.”

California wildfires, for example, have caused extreme peril to employees’ safety at their homes or workplace and would qualify as emergency conditions in the case of either an ordered evacuation or an employee’s reasonable belief that the workplace or worksite is unsafe. 

For this law’s purpose, “reasonable belief that the workplace or worksite is unsafe” means that based on the circumstances known to the employee, the employee concludes that entering or remaining on the premises during an emergency condition poses a real danger of death or serious injury. Once the emergency condition has ceased, this protection no longer applies.

Updating employee absence policy to comply with law

Dentist employers who have a workplace policy on employee absence or job abandonment should update it, as needed, to state that exceptions will be made for emergency situations defined in the new law and communicate the change to their employees. CDA members who don’t have an employee manual of policies can create one using CDA’s sample template or manual generator. The updated 2023 employee manual will be available early next year.

Several other employment-related laws affect dentists and their employers and will take effect in 2023. Read about them in the CDA newsroom.