As California cases of COVID-19 began to rise in early March, several California administrative agencies released information on COVID-19 employment issues, such as administration of paid sick leave, disability benefits, and unemployment insurance. Yet, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH)—the agency charged with enforcement of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which, among other things, prohibits discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace—remained silent.
Earlier this week, the DFEH released its own guidance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The DFEH’s guidance, styled in the form of Frequently Asked Questions, answers many questions that have arisen as COVID-19 workplace concerns have become ubiquitous, including whether employers may take employees’ temperatures, how much information an employer may reveal about employees who come in contact with the virus, how much employers may ask about an employee’s absence from work, and whether employers may require employees to wear personal protective equipment. The DFEH’s guidance confirms that an employee may use leave under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) if the employee is ill with COVID-19 or is caring for a family member with COVID-19. The guidance also discusses whether employers should require medical documentation for leaves and accommodations for COVID-19 related disabilities given practical limitations on employees’ abilities to obtain medical documentation. Most of the DFEH’s guidance mirrors guidance previously issued by federal agencies.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) previously released its own guidance for COVID-19 response in the workplace, including whether employers could perform employee temperature checks and how much information an employer could request from employees calling in sick. However, because the EEOC only administers federal law, before the DFEH issued its guidance, it was unclear whether the same direction would apply under California’s stricter FEHA.