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DC Enacts Far-Reaching Employee COVID-19-Related Protections

On August 13, Mayor Muriel Bowser signed into law the “Protecting Businesses and Workers from COVID-19 Emergency Amendment Act of 2020.”

Under it, District of Columbia employers must have, by August 20, adopted and implemented social distancing and worker protection policies consistent with the Mayor’s July 22, 2020 mask order.

Specifically, businesses, office buildings, and other establishments that are open to the public must:

  1. Post signs on their exterior doors stating people not wearing a mask may not enter; and
  2. Exclude or attempt to eject from the premises people who are not wearing masks or who remove their required masks. Also, employers must provide masks to their employees.

The mask order contains some exceptions. For example, people need not wear a mask if they are:

  • residents or guests in a private home or apartment;
  • eating, drinking, or legally smoking;
  • engaged in vigorous outdoor exercise and maintaining social distance of at least six (6) feet from others;
  • in the water at a swimming pool;
  • in an enclosed office that no one else is permitted to enter;
  • aged two or younger;
  • unable to wear a mask due to a medical condition or disability, or physically unable to remove a mask;
  • giving a speech for broadcast or an audience, provided no one is within six feet of the speaker; or
  • lawfully asked to remove the mask to enable facial recognition.

Nor is a mask required when:

  • speaking to someone who needs to read lips due to a hearing impairment;
  • wearing job-required equipment that precludes mask wearing, or
  • wearing a mask would endanger public safety.

The Act authorizes employers to require employees to report a positive test for COVID-19 infection. But, employers may not disclose their identity except to the Department of Health or other DC or federal agencies responsible for, and engaged in, contact tracing.

The Act bars employers from retaliating against employees for:

  • refusing to serve a customer or client, or to work within six feet of an individual who is not complying with the Act’s workplace protections;
  • testing positive for COVID-19, provided that the employee didn’t physically report to the workplace after he or she received the positive test result;
  • being ill and waiting for a COVID-19 test result;
  • caring for, or seeking to provide care for, someone with COVID-19 symptoms or who is quarantined; or
  • attempting to vindicate their rights under the Act.

Employers who repeatedly or willfully fail to implement the Act’s mandated policies are subject to an administrative penalty equal to $50 per employee per day. Likewise, employers face a $500 administrative penalty each time that they violate the Act’s anti-retaliation provisions. Also, under the Act, the attorney general may sue employers for violations and seek back pay, penalties, equitable relief, attorneys’ fees, and costs.

Contacts

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