As important companies that never shut down, grocery stores must comply with countless federal, state, and local regulations to protect COVID-19 workers. The task is anything but simple, experts say.
"For most of the industry, across the board among grocery retailers and wholesalers, this is an area that is currently under attack," says Brandon Takahashi, a Los Angeles-based partner with Fox Rothschild LLP.
The issue was highlighted earlier this month when the California Department of Industrial Relations fined five grocery stores in Los Angeles, all part of chains owned by Cincinnati, Ohio-based Kroger Co., totaling $ 104,380. The agency issued citations for violations, including not updating safety plans and on-the-job training, but reporting COVID-1
The citations came on the heels of the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration's announcement of a public meeting on October 13 about potential whistleblower violations in the health and retail trade, mostly related to COVID -19 complaints. Federal regulators say such overall whistleblower complaints have increased by 30% this year, including a wave of more than 3,000 related to the pandemic. In California, most of Cal / OSHA's inspections came from complaints according to citation data.
“As with all companies, grocery stores face the challenge of keeping pace with the spread of city, county and state regulation, legislation and the CEO. documents and regulations, says John Dony, Itasca, Illinois-based director of the Campbell Institute, which conducts research for the National Safety Council. "Food operations, which by their nature tend to be multiple establishments and extend across multiple jurisdictions, face unique challenges in this regard."
Eric Conn, Washington-based founder of Conn Maciel Carey LLP, said grocery stores as healthcare settings were forced to change business practices immediately in the pandemic because "they are as important as they get" and will continue to see new rules.
"What they are doing is so important to our nation," he said, adding that the industry "has done extremely well in the crisis."
"The industry was one of the first to get creative with technical controls" such as building barriers between clerks and clients before federal regulators required them, he said. . Still, managing security continues to be a "major challenge," he added.
The challenge is federal regulators such as OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are not the only entities issuing rules that specifically apply to grocery stores.  In Los Angeles County, for example, regulations introduced in recent months – requiring methods such as hygiene training and mandatory breaks – are piggybacking on those introduced by county governments in the county, as are state and federal regulations, Brian Casillas said. an employee at Fox Rothschild's office in Los Angeles.
“It is difficult to know the ever-changing landscape. … The only thing we recommend clients is to have someone who is dedicated to pairing up with legal advisors to sign up (for blogs and newsletters) for daily changes, he says. "There is a lack of efficiency" with various requirements set by several governing bodies.
In addition to concerns consistent, grocery stores continue to face issues such as lack of personal protective equipment, which has been experienced in other industries including health care and environmental controls, such as managing customer practices in the store, Conn said. "The masks … this is where we see the sharp increase in whistleblower activity," he said, noting that some jurisdictions have instructed workers to ensure that customers wear masks.
Implementing such rules could harm workers, experts say.
Stores must "remain compatible with their own workforce, but they must also follow rules and / or guidelines that affect interaction with the public and their customers," says Dony. "As we have seen, this has led to a number of cases of violence in the workplace, which requires a focus on training for peeling and other solutions."