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State writes new guidelines for workers, employers

Most shops in the Laramie Square mall near San Mateo and Candelaria NE were closed April 29 amid restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. As businesses prepare for an eventual return-to-work, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions has issued new safety-related best practices for employers. JIM THOMPSON/JOURNAL

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

As New Mexico begins making plans to re-open shuttered portions of its economy, the state’s Department of Workforce Solutions released guidelines designed to help businesses get there safely.

The agency rolled out a new set of guidelines earlier this week, including a section that dictates what retail employers need to demonstrate to reopen. The guidelines also outline what employees must demonstrate if they wish to continue receiving unemployment benefits once their employer reopens.

“We want to make sure that we’re operating in a way that is safe both for our employees and our customers,” said Rob Black, president and CEO of the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry, one of several industry associations the state worked with on the regulations.

The guidance comes as New Mexico begins to plan for re-opening businesses closed under state and local health orders, tentatively slated to begin later this month.

Department Secretary Bill McCamley wrote in an email his agency also worked on the guidelines with the New Mexico Department of Health and the state’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau, as well as industry associations like NMACI and the New Mexico Restaurant Association.

The document also states that workers who quit or decline to return to work when asked must provide documentation of “good cause” from a health provider if they plan on continuing to file for unemployment benefits, or their claims may be considered fraudulent.

The document lays out a variety of underlying health conditions, ranging from diabetes to moderate-to-severe asthma, that qualify workers to remain on unemployment even after being offered their jobs back.

People also can provide “documentation from a medical provider” that they or someone they take care of would be put at risk by returning to work to be considered to have good cause to remain at home. Otherwise, they risk losing state and federal unemployment benefits.

Workers who are 65 or older and those who work in a long-term care facility are considered exempt, as are their caregivers.

“Part of what we need to be doing is focusing on the folks who are most vulnerable,” Black said.

“Not returning to work because of general fear of COVID-19 is not considered good cause,” the document reads.

McCamley said workers will be able to appeal ineligibility rulings through the department’s website.

The document also lays out 11 safety criteria that re-opening businesses are asked to meet. In addition to meeting guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, employers are asked to limit operations to remote work as much as possible, close common areas, provide employees with face coverings and screen employees before they enter the workplace.

Retail establishments are also required to use signs or floor decals to create one-way aisles and other social distancing techniques, encourage customers to wear face coverings and disinfect doors, fitting rooms and other “high-touch items” at least every two hours.

Black acknowledged some of these requirements will raise costs for small-business owners, but said he’s optimistic the state would look at a grant program to offset some of those costs.

Read the complete document here: Guidance_Return_to_Work_COVID-19_

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