On March 1, 2022, UPE met and conferred with representatives from DHA regarding changes to the Department’s mask requirements. In response to the State and County health action, the Department will no longer require employees to wear masks if they have self-attested to being vaccinated. They are also removing masking requirements for clients. According to the County, unmasked clients who enter the building are presumed to be vaccinated.
An exception applies when a building is in ‘outbreak’ status under CAL-OHSA guidelines. This status applies to a work location with three or more positive cases in a rolling 14-day period. Everyone – staff and clients – are required to wear masks when a building is in outbreak status. If the client is not wearing a mask when they should be, staff are to direct them to the Sheriff’s security station to receive a mask. If they refuse to wear a mask, employees can refuse service and alert the Sheriff.
UPE strenuously objected to the County-wide decision that no longer requires clients to wear masks or even to verify clients’ vaccination status. UPE proposed the County verify vaccination status or even ask clients to verify without providing proof, but the Department refused, citing a County-wide decision. UPE then proposed that our workers be allowed to refuse service to unmasked clients if the worker did not feel comfortable. The Department again refused, citing the clients’ right to service and completely disregarding the employees’ right to a safe workplace.
UPE made it clear that the Department and the County as a whole are once again demonstrating to their workers exactly where their safety ranks on the priority list. COVID numbers may be going down, and the state may be changing its guidelines, but continuing masking for clients is a simple step the County could take to meet the needs of their clients and their workers.
UPE did assure that other existing safety protocols will continue, including the use of separate interview spaces and reduced lobby capacity. UPE also insisted that the Department write out and disseminate the new existing mask rules to all workers. This will be shared with staff at unit meetings. As Federal, State, and County COVID guidelines continue to evolve, UPE will continue to meet with the County in order to advocate for our workers’ safety as we have done throughout the pandemic.