On July 21, 2020, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a motion to enforce the monitoring of compliance with County health orders by encouraging workers to directly report health code violations through employee “public health councils.” Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas co-authored the motion, which could have a significant impact by placing employees, rather than public health inspectors, at the front lines of enforcing public health orders.
The Board noted that workplace transmission has been a significant factor contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in communities across the Los Angeles region, and that the risk of infection has increased as businesses have reopened. The Board specifically called out the food sector, noting high infection rates at meat packing plants and grocery stores. At the same time, the Department of Public Health does not have the workforce capacity to ensure universal compliance. Therefore, the Board sought to create a streamlined process for workers to report workplace violations of Health Officer Orders.
This process would involve public health councils comprised of employees at their worksites that would be empowered to directly report violations of the County’s detailed COVID-19 reopening protocols, such as the installation of plexiglass shields, workplace cleanings, enforcing physical distancing, and providing employees with facial coverings.
Public health councils could be created by employees or unions. Employees choosing to join these public health councils would be legally protected from retaliation by employers for reporting violations. These employee groups would expand the Department of Public Health’s monitoring capabilities by providing information about public health violations in each workplace. Additionally, the Board proposed certifying third party worker and community based organizations to serve as the intermediaries between the public health councils and the Department of Public Health.
The Board ordered the Department of Public Health to consult with unions, business representatives, and workers’ advocates, and report by August 4, 2020 on the feasibility and budget implications of creating public health councils. The Board has emphasized in recent meetings that Department of Public Health officers are overwhelmed and unable to inspect all operating businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. If this program goes forward as expected, employers should be prepared for the formation of public health councils within their workplace. Employers should also take this opportunity to make sure that they are in compliance with applicable state and local orders.