Comstock's magazine 0219 - February 2019 - Page 26

n EVIL HR LADY DILEMMA OF THE MONTH HOW EMPLOYERS SHOULD HANDLE DANGEROUS AIR QUALITY by Suzanne Lucas ILLUSTRATION: JOHN CHASE W ith the horrible fires in California last year, air quality became unhealthy, even reaching hazardous levels. I’m the HR manager of a small business, and we ended up closing our office and sending employees home on an especially bad day. But I fear this won’t be the last time we face the quandary of bad air quality and I want to be prepared for future events. What are employers expected to do for employees when the air quality is dangerous? Are we legally obligated to close when the air quality is so bad? A 26 | February 2019 EVEN HUNDREDS OF MILES AWAY FROM THE CAMP FIRE IN NOVEMBER, the air quality suffered, and businesses had to decide how to react. In many towns, busi- nesses — including Amazon’s Sacramen- to fulfillment center — shut down until the air improved. The question of legal obligation to shut down comes with a caveat — I’m not a lawyer, but even if I were, the answer will always be “it depends.” Even the Occupa- tional Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency that regulates work- place safety, says, “Currently, OSHA has no indoor air quality standards.” But you can go to or www.Spa- (for the Sacramento region) to find out if your outdoor air is at danger- ous levels, and then buy detectors to make your own judgments based on the results. Despite the lack of a bright line from OSHA, the agency does require that companies “provide workers with a safe workplace that does not have any known