CSEA's Response to the Crisis

Q:  What is CSEA doing to protect the health and rights of its members?
A:  CSEA was instrumental in crafting the California Department of Education and Department of Public Health guidance for reopening schools, which placed an emphasis on outlining specific steps to ensure student and staff safety in the event schools reopened in the fall. The guidance also instructs Local Education Agencies to work with labor partners like CSEA to come to agreement at the table prior to reopening.


This summer your CSEA Governmental Relations team fought hard for protections for all classified staff:

  1. Full state funding the same as the 2019-2020 school year.

  2. Historic support from the legislature in SB 98, stating it was the Legislature’s intent that all classified staff should be retained.

Additionally, CSEA won complete layoff protection for three classifications for the 20-21 year for K-12 and community college employees:

  • Nutrition, Transportation and Custodial 

Initially, CSEA took proactive steps to ensure member safety, healthy working conditions and uphold chapter collective bargaining rights. CSEA took the lead early in the epidemic to bargain special agreements with districts to better protect our members. Many of these epidemic-specific agreements are now complete, and many more are in process.

On the statewide level, CSEA’s Government Relations department is advocating for classified employees in Sacramento as the situation continues to unfold.


Q:  What communication will CSEA provide to its members?

A:  CSEA will continue to send weekly Leadership Mail, as well as important email alerts and website updates. Local chapters will work to send frequent bargaining updates and/or chapter newsletters with any information they learn from meetings with their district.


Health and Safety Issues

Q:  Can my employer require I take the new vaccine?

A:  Yes, if it has bargained first with CSEA over such a requirement AND you do not have a disability or religious objection. If you do, your employer would by law have to first engage in an interactive process with you and provide reasonable accommodation. In many classified positions, the only accommodation achievable will be an unpaid leave of absence.  
In bargaining over such a proposed employer requirement, CSEA would push (for example) for confirmation of your legal right to lost pay and medical expenses if the vaccine were to cause you a severe allergic reaction (which are fortunately very rare). To date, no CSEA employers have insisted on vaccinations (as most employees are eager to receive one). For more info, contact your LRR.

Q:  What additional training and supplies could be provided to members tasked with addressing the spread of the virus?
A:  Each chapter should demand to bargain for safety training and adequate supplies appropriate for the chapter.

The OSHA website is good resources for available trainings, safety rule and regulations, and hazards materials. Cal/OSHA requires each employer to have a written COVID-19 Prevention Plan.  This can either be part of the employer’s Industrial Injury Prevention Plan (IIPP) or a separate document.  

The standards are fairly detailed about what the Prevention Plan must contain.  In addition, they require the employer to identify and evaluate any workplace-specific hazards.  The employer must allow employees and any “authorized employee representative” to participate in this evaluation process.  This means CSEA must have a seat at the table in developing and/or refining each Prevention Plan.

LRRs and members should refer to the emergency standards themselves for precise details about what each Prevention Plan must contain. In addition, the California Department of Public Health has issued school-specific safety guidance that employers must follow. Please see the Cal/OSHA Emergency Regulation FAQ and Emergency Temporary Standards Flyer for more information about how to keep your worksite safe.

Q:  What can CSEA members do to protect their health?
A:  Wash your hands regularly and do not touch your face. Wear a mask—the best type available to you. Stay at least 6 feet away from other people if possible. 

If you work in foodservice, a new state law and Executive Order from the Governor (51-20) guarantees you the right to take a break every 30 minutes to wash your hands. Also, check out the recent Cal/OSHA emergency regulation for COVID prevention. It includes, for example, a requirement in subsection (c)(10)(c) that the employer pay workers their regular salaries and benefits if they contract COVID-19 at work and must stay home. 

If your district is not adhering to this regulation, let your Labor Relations Representative or Chapter leaders know right away. Please refer to the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites for more guidance and documentation on safety measures and/or concerns.

Ask your Labor Relations Representative about COVID Know Your Rights trainings hosted by your field office.

Q:  What if I catch the COVID-19 virus from working?
A:  If you think you have caught this virus, don’t be afraid to pay to be tested. The new federal CARES Act requires tests be provided free of charge. 

Additionally, CSEA fought hard for the passage of SB 1159, a law which creates a “rebuttable presumption” for school employees as it relates to contracting COVID-19 illness at work. 

SB 1159 creates a rebuttable presumption that applies to all employees, including school and community college employees, whose employers have five or more employees. This presumption is effective if there is a COVID-19 outbreak at the employee’s place of employment. 

Your Labor Relations Representative will help determine if an outbreak has occurred as defined in the bill.

Even if there is no outbreak, you may still be legally entitled to workers compensation benefits if you contracted the illness at work. These benefits include medical care and disability payments. 

If the District resists such a workers’ comp claim, contact your CSEA LRR who can refer you to attorneys who specialize in workers’ comp cases.


Covid Testing

Q:  Can I be required by my employer to get tested for COVID in order to be allowed to work?

A:  Yes, if the employer has bargained first with CSEA. The EEOC has held that this is not an illegal invasion of medical privacy. For more info, contact your LRR.

Q:  What is the role of coronavirus testing in keeping the workplace safe?
A:  Cal/OSHA and the CDPH both call for COVID-19 testing to maintain a safe workplace. When a communicable disease outbreak begins, public health officials recommend testing. The CDPH guidance for schools calls for testing of every employee at least once every two months, to the extent this is feasible.

A major worry with the coronavirus is that people can be infected and can spread the virus to others without exhibiting symptoms themselves. Testing leads to quick identification of cases, quick treatment for those people, and immediate isolation to prevent spread. Early testing also helps to identify anyone who came into contact with infected people so they too can be quickly treated. Testing is a vital component of protecting students and CSEA members, creating safer working conditions for everyone who may be required to report to the workplace.

Many districts have negotiated agreements with CSEA regarding the impacts of testing on members of the bargaining unit. Coronavirus testing can and must be done safely and in a way that protects employee privacy.


Paid Leave Time

Q:  Am I entitled to pay if I have to stay home because I was exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID?  
Yes, the new Cal/OSHA regulation on COVID requires the employer pay for an employee to stay home if they have an exposure to a positive case within 6 feet of more than 15 minutes within 24 hours.  However, the regulation allows employers to require use of sick leave, which is unlike the situation this past fall where federal law required employers provide an added 80 hours of paid COVID leave on top of existing sick leave. This law (the FFCRA) expired December 31, 2020. CSEA’s Governmental Relations Department is working with other unions and legislators to extend these leave rights. CSEA’s Field Operations Department is negotiating with districts to continue the 80-hour leave provisions. For more info contact your LRR.  


Q:  Am I entitled to leave if my district wants me to return to work but I still don’t have childcare due to my childcare provider (or child’s school) still being closed?  
A:  The federal law requiring employers provide paid leave for this purpose (the FFCRA) expired December 31.  However, some districts will allow their employees to use other paid leaves for this purpose. Also, California Labor Code section 230.8 requires certain larger employers provide unpaid leave of up to 40 hours for childcare emergencies, and probably applies to school districts.  For more info, contact your LRR.  


Q:  Can my employer make me stay home and quarantine just because I traveled out of state?  If so, do they have to pay me? 
A:  First, under Educational Employment Relations Act (EERA) an employer must bargain with CSEA over such a new requirement before unilaterally imposing it. Second, the underlying requirement is subject to legal challenge under California Labor Code sections 96(k) and 98.6, which bar adverse actions against employees “for lawful conduct occurring during nonworking hours away from the employer’s premises.” However, courts have interpreted these statutes more narrowly as designed to protect political activities.  There is also a constitutional right to interstate travel, but it involves a balancing test weighing the interests of the employer against those of the employee.  Given the health threats from travel (airplane travel in particular), a legal challenge might not be successful, but districts would risk paying penalties and legal fees if they guess incorrectly that an unpaid travel quarantine is lawful. Contact your LRR immediately if you hear of your district trying to require an unpaid travel quarantine. 

Q:  What if a member is directed to leave work or not attend work for a period of time due to illness?
A:  Members who are feeling ill should have leaves available to them as a result of chapter COVID-19 effects negotiations, the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), California Education Code and/or the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) in effect through December 31, 2020. If a member has been sent home by the District as a precautionary measure, CSEA believes the District should not deduct the member’s leaves and instead maintain regular pay for the employee while they regain health. Your Labor Relations Representative can assist you.

Q:  Can I use paid leave to take care of a sick family member?
A:  The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), established a new minimum amount of leave for various reasons including family illness through December 31, 2020.

The Act provides that public employers must provide to all covered employees:

  • Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay (or state minimum wage, if higher) because the employee is unable to work because of a bona fide need to care for an individual subject to quarantine (pursuant to Federal, State, or local government order or advice of a health care provider. This pay is capped at $200/day.

The only job classifications not covered are health care providers and “emergency responders” (defined by the U.S. Department of Labor to include law enforcement officers and anyone designated in the future by the Governor as an emergency responder for these purposes).

Districts are also required by state law to allow you to use your accrued sick leave to take care of family members who are ill.

There may be other leaves available to you at the chapter level due to agreements negotiated by your chapter. Your Labor Relations Representative can assist you.

Q:  How can members take time off to deal with a childcare crisis caused by a childcare center or school closing due to coronavirus?
A:  Due to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), a minimum amount of leave for childcare problems has been established through December 31, 2020.

The Act provides that public employers must provide to all covered employees two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay (or minimum wage, if higher) because the employee is unable to work because of a bona fide need to care for a child (under 18 years of age) whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19, and/or the employee is experiencing a substantially similar condition.

In addition, an employer must provide to employees that it has employed for at least 30 days an additional 10 weeks of paid leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay (capped at $200/day) where an employee is unable to work due to a need for leave to care for a child whose school or child care provider is unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19. Note that this is not additional leave on top of FMLA leave, so it will not be available to you if you have already used up some of your 12 weeks’ worth of FMLA entitlement earlier in the past 12 months.

The only job classifications not covered are health care providers and “emergency responders” (defined by the U.S. Department of Labor to include law enforcement officers and anyone designated in the future by the Governor as an emergency responder for these purposes).

Many districts also adhere to the provisions in Labor Code section 230.8 providing up to 40 hours of unpaid leave for childcare problems.

There may be other leaves available to you at the chapter level due to agreements negotiated by your chapter. Your Labor Relations Representative can assist you.

Q:  Is intermittent paid leave available to employees caring for a child displaced by COVID-19 school closures?
A:  The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was signed into law on March 18, 2020 and expires December 31, 2020. It amends the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to cover COVID-19 related leaves for an employee who is unable to work due to a need to care for the employee’s minor child if the child’s school or place of care has been closed or the childcare provider is unavailable due to a public health emergency. We believe this leave needs to be made available to you on an intermittent basis if you wish (that is, hourly or daily, not just in a weeklong period) according to a recent federal district court decision, which disagreed with a Labor Department regulation claiming employers have the option to deny intermittent leave. Contact your Field Representative for more information or if you have been denied intermittent leave under this law.


Return to School

Q:  Is distance-learning the same as the school closures we experienced in the Spring of 2020?
A:  No. CSEA is currently working on coronavirus, return and distance-specific agreements with each district that will cover this issue. Talk with your Labor Relations Representative regarding pay during closure at your district.

Q:  Some classifications are able to work from home and others are required to report to work. What can we do to seek equity?
A:  We are in an unprecedented situation. The law requires certain functions still be performed. It’s important for chapters to try and negotiate over the impacts and effects for our members who are still assigned to come to work during this situation.

Q:  What if a member is asked to perform work in sites known to have come into contact with students or staff who have been exposed to the virus, and the member does not want to carry out the assignment?

A:  School employees may be disciplined for being insubordinate if they refuse to do assigned work. However, court decisions have affirmed the rights of workers to refuse assignments in situations where they reasonably believe imminent danger exists. Make sure to inform your supervisor that you are willing to perform other duties.

Be advised that if you decide to refuse an assignment, the appeal process is likely to take quite a while given the difficulty of every district and enforcement agency has in scheduling meetings at this time.

If you believe that you are at an increased risk due to personal health problems, you should first discuss the matter with your supervisor. This may constitute a reasonable concern.

Please contact your Labor Relations Representative if you have any questions or concerns.

Q:  Can a district assign duties not normally prescribed to classified employees as "disaster service workers?"

A:  Our collective bargaining agreements have not been suspended, and Districts must still bargain under the Educational Employment Relations Act (EERA). If your district claims it can impose “disaster service work” without bargaining or refuses to bargain temporary changes to job descriptions, please reach out to your chapter leadership and Labor Relations Representative. At minimum, employers may need to address issues including “working out of class” and proper safety precautions.


In the meantime, classified employees who are directed to work outside of their usual job classification generally should not refuse to do the work assigned

Q:  We are back at work—so, is it okay for our chapter to host in-person events?

A:  CSEA continues to communicate its desire for members to follow health orders and avoid in-person events or gatherings. Gatherings pose an especially high danger of transmission and spread of COVID-19. State orders permit certain employees to perform certain work inside certain places of employment (such as schools), but union meetings are not work. Violations of the state order are a crime under Government Code section 8665. Anyone attending could be prosecuted.  

Even wholly-outdoor events are now mostly prohibited by CDPH, with the exception of (1) events totally within cars, with no live interactions, assuming chapter can get a local permit for this; (2) protests, and (3) in places with ICU capacity over 15 percent, an outside gathering of at most three households. Even some of these activities are banned by some county orders, it is encouraged that you check your county order before proceeding. 

Q:  If a district increases custodial workload to reduce the spread of the virus, what can a chapter do for those workers?

A:  Each chapter should negotiate the impacts of assignment changes. Work with your Labor Relations Representative.

Q:  My district is asking non-bargaining unit members to perform bargaining unit work, what should I do?

A: ​ Contact your Labor Relations Representative or Chapter Leaders.

Q:  Does my school district or community college have to reimburse me for home internet, mobile phone, or other expenses if I am doing my job remotely from home?

A: ​ Many CSEA members may be working from home and performing tasks that require an internet connection and/or mobile phone service. Education Code section 44032 (for public K-12 schools) and section 87032 (for community colleges) require the employer to reimburse employees for “actual and necessary” expenses incurred in the course of their employment. Check to see if your district or college has a reimbursement policy that provides details, or if your chapter has bargained an agreement detailing reimbursement. Contact your Labor Relations Representative if you believe you are entitled to reimbursement but aren’t able to get it.


Stimulus Funding

Q:  Does the December 2020 stimulus bill contain any money to help districts?
A:  Yes, while the Republicans refused to provide additional funding to states, this bill provides significant additional funds for any district which receives Title I money (the vast majority of districts). The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding for districts provided earlier in 2020 under the CARES Act has been roughly quadrupled by the stimulus bill. There are some limits on how these ESSER funds can be used, but the permissible uses are quite broad. For more info, see the Cal Dept. of Education website and contact your LRR.

Q:  Does the stimulus bill impact classified employees in any other way?
A:  The bill does NOT extend the paid leaves provided earlier in 2020 by the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA), but merely extends some tax credits for private employers. The bill does augment unemployment benefits by $300/week for 11 weeks and extend unemployment benefits for independent contractors. The bill also provides a stimulus check of $600 per household member, with certain income limits. If like most people you pay the IRS through your bank account, this money is going straight into your account. If you haven’t seen it yet, then a good summary of how to collect these funds has been posted by the AARP at https://www.aarp.org/money/taxes/info-2020/irs-timeline-to-send-stimulus-funds/

Legal Changes

Q:  Are there any legal changes effective in January 2021 that I should know about?
A:  Yes. The state minimum wage went up from $13/hr to $14/hr for employers with more than 25 employees. Family leave rights have been extended in California to include time off to take care of sick grandparents, grandchildren, siblings and domestic partners. Also, the small employer exemption was reduced from 50 employees down to 5 employees (SB 1383). For more info, contact your LRR. 


CalPERS Credit

Q:  Will there be any impact to CalPERS credit during the school closures?
A:  Only if members are unpaid and if members work under 1,720 hours per fiscal year (10 months/ 8 hours per day). If reported as unpaid and under 1,720 you would lose service credit. That’s why CSEA is actively working with districts to ensure our members remain in paid status during this time.

If you have any questions or concerns about your paid status, you should contact your Labor Relations Representative.

Q:  Could the type of “leave” used, have any impact to CalPERS?
A:  Only if the leave is an unpaid leave.  If the leave is PAID, the salary is reported as normal with no impact to service credit.

Q:  My District is placing me on paid administrative leave. Will this have a negative impact on my CalPERS credit?
A:  Paid administrative leave with the intent to return to work is reportable to CalPERS for service credit. If you have any concerns about how your leave is being reported, you should contact your Labor Relations Representative.


Information for Negotiating Teams

Q:  We already negotiated an agreement. Why are we negotiating another?

A:  We did negotiate closure agreements. A return to school, whether it is in-person or a distance learning model, will change working conditions and new health authority requirements require negotiation as well.

Q:  Will new agreements require ratification from the membership?
A:  All negotiated agreements are subject to the Policy 610 requirements for field office review and membership ratification. The CSEA Board of Directors has waived parts of Policy 610 to allow chapters to ratify negotiated agreements via electronic meetings or online poll. Chapters should not ask members to gather together in person to do union business so long as health officials are discouraging such gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic. All Regional Representatives have been authorized by the Association President to obtain Zoom accounts at CSEA expense to conduct ratification meetings on Zoom if the chapter desires. Contact your Labor Relations Representative for further guidance.

Q:  With safety measures taken by CSEA and districts, are we expected to convene the entire bargaining team for negotiations?
A:  No. We urge you not to hold any in-person meetings at this time. Negotiations using phone or video conferencing resources ARE required. CSEA and the District will have to work together to find a method that works best for all involved.

Q:  When should our chapter be seeking agreements that settle the effects of school closure, distance learning, or changes in duties?
A:  In coordination with the Labor Relations Representatives, chapters should be working to reach an agreement as soon as possible. CSEA will be clear with districts regarding rights to negotiate under the law.

Your Labor Relations Representative will schedule with your districts immediately to ensure the chapter reaches a fair agreement.

Q:  When should we update our members?
A:  CSEA encourages chapters to send regular updates to members to ensure they have the most up-to-date and accurate information.

Q:  My district was on the State Watchlist—does the district have to implement the distance-learning model?

A:  It depends.


Per the CDPH, schools and school districts may reopen for in-person instruction at any time if they are located in a local health jurisdiction (LHJ) that has not been on the county monitoring list within the prior 14 days. Currently, any tier less restrictive than the “Purple” Tier.


If the LHJ has been on the monitoring list (Purple Tier) within the last 14 days, the school must conduct distance learning only, until their LHJ has been off the monitoring list for at least 14 days.


A waiver of this criteria may be granted by the local health officer for elementary schools to open for in-person instruction.  A waiver may only be granted if one is requested by the superintendent(or equivalent for charter or private schools), in consultation with labor, parent and community organizations.  Local health officers must review local community epidemiological data, consider other public health interventions, and consult with CDPH when considering a waiver request. 

Q:  What are the criteria for closing a school?

A:  Per CDPH guidelines, individual school closure is recommended based on the number of cases, the percentage of the teacher/students/staff that are positive for COVID-19, and following consultation with the Local Health Officer.  Individual school closure may be appropriate when there are multiple cases in multiple cohorts at a school or when at least 5 percent of the total number of teachers/student/staff are cases within a 14-day period, depending on the size and physical layout of the school. The Local Health Officer may also determine school closure is warranted for other reasons, including results from public health investigation or other local epidemiological data. If a school is closed for in-person learning, when may it reopen? Schools may typically reopen after14 days and the following have occurred:

  • Cleaning and disinfection

  • Public health investigation

  • Consultation with the local public health department

Q:  What are the criteria for closing a school district?

A:  Per CDPH guidelines, a superintendent should close a school district if 25% or more of schools in a district have closed due to COVID-19within 14 days, and in consultation with the local public health department. If a school district is closed, when may it reopen? Districts may typically reopen after 14 days, in consultation with the local public health department.

Q:  Do students have to wear masks?

A:  Please see table below, per CDPH Guidelines:

**Face coverings are strongly encouraged for young children between two years old and second grade, if they can be worn properly. A face shield is an acceptable alternative for children in this cohort who cannot wear them properly.

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