FEATURE: Safety in the Workplace During a Global Pandemic

By Brian Kaufman, LCSW
Chair NASW-CA Social Work Occupational Council

As California gradually reopens there are many employers that have been calling their furloughed workers to let them know they now must return to work.  That may be welcome news to some, but at the same time they may be walking into a workplace that may no longer be safe. 

We as a council strongly believe that we have an additional ethical responsibility to ourselves in that we must ensure that we are healthy and not put ourselves in any unnecessary danger.  We also believe that administrators have an additional ethical responsibility to ensure that staff views are heard and concerns addressed.  We should be just as passionate about advocating for ourselves and our colleagues than we are with our own clients.

Therefore, it is critical that we all start asking some hard questions about the very places we work: 

  • What is my agency doing to ensure that all staff can remain as safe as possible?
  • Has my agency incorporated all CDC and CAL/OSHA guidelines?
  • How often is the office cleaned?
  • Does my agency have sufficient personal protective equipment such as disinfectants, masks and gloves?
  • Is it possible for my agency to adopt strategies in order to help in social distancing such as staggered schedules, telework, meetings conducted remotely?
  • If either myself or a family member may come down with symptoms or test positive, will I be allowed to take time off in order to recover or care for my family member?
  • If I have a pre-existing condition that may threaten my life if I contract COVID-19 will I be allowed to take time off in order to further protect myself?

If by some chance your answer to some of these questions is no, do not despair because there are some things that can be done.  You should start by asking your employer about what they are doing to address safety in the workplace. Your employer has a legal obligation to ensure that you have a safe and healthy environment to work in.

For more information please read the CAL/OSHA guidelines here:

Also please read the CDC guidelines here:

The CDC has also put out a list medical conditions that may put someone at higher risk.  That list can be found here:

Brian is currently the Chair of the The Social Work Occupational Council. This council is here to assist all members in any and all workplace-related issues.  
You can email them at the following address: naswcaswoc@gmail.com
You can contact Brian directly by emailing him here: bkaufman.nasw@gmail.com

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