As the Coachella Valley economy adapts to life midway through Stage 2 of Riverside County’s accelerated reopening, residents and businesses face a mounting number of questions and concerns about returning to work, keeping themselves and their families safe, and planning for the possibility of themselves becoming infected with COVID-19. Palm Springs Life hosted a webinar June 4 where legal experts from Palm Springs-based law firm Slovak, Baron, Empey, Murphy & Pinkney (SBEMP) explained how employers should safely welcome the return of employees, customers, and vendors and individuals can plan for their own potential health emergency. SBEMP also sponsored the webinar.
Speaking to business owners, Vee B. Sotelo, partner and Labor & Employment Department chair at SBEMP, says federal, state, and local health agencies generally look for the same imperatives in a business preparing to reopen: a site-specific safety plan that includes control measures such as requiring temperature and symptom screenings, providing personal protective equipment, and facilitating constant cleaning and disinfection of common spaces and surfaces.
“California goes out of its way to protect employees,” Sotelo says, noting requirements for signage alerting customers and vendors to what’s required of them in terms of masks and social distancing before they come into the business. “I know it’s an expense, but I encourage employers to offer face coverings to employees, provide sanitizer in common spaces, and mark workplaces for social distancing.
“If employees don’t feel safe, they will not come in,” she continues, suggesting that employers stagger employees’ schedules to mitigate congestion in hallways and other common spaces. “Employers must train employees to frequently wash their hands and follow social distancing protocols, and also designate a point of contact who’ll alert health agencies and clearly communicate to employees if there’s an outbreak.”
Sotelo acknowledged some employees might not feel safe coming back to work and encouraged employers to allow them to work at home or make reasonable accommodations when possible. She also implored employees who travel to self-quarantine when they return.
In the second half of the webinar, Valerie A. Powers Smith, a partner at SBEMP and chair of the firm’s Trusts, Estates & Probate and Special Needs & Elder Law departments, focused on how to prepare yourself and your family in case you become incapacitated or die from the novel coronavirus.
“It’s scary and uncomfortable to discuss,” she says, “but incapacity is real under COVID, and it can happen on the turn of a dime and be temporary or permanent. Throughout the stay-at-home period, we did a lot of edits to wills as well as incapacity planning. You don’t have to leave your home; it can be done by telephone or web conferencing.”
Powers Smith encouraged thoughtful estate planning — a power of attorney to handle your financial transactions, as well as a healthcare directive. “Who do you want to give you a voice when you can no longer say what you want to happen? Once you lose the ability, it’s too late.”
VIDEO: View the Palm Springs Life seminar featuring legal experts from SBEMP Attorneys in Palm Springs.