I Want to Have a Safer and Healthier Workplace What COVID-19 laws should I be aware of?

California has updated laws and regulations to protect workers and to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infection at workplaces.

  • The COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) became effective and enforceable on November 30, 2020. In May 2022, the emergency temporary standards were readopted with revisions. There were changes to face covering, testing and other requirements. The ETS applies to all employers, employees, and to all places of employment with three exceptions.
    • The ETS applies to all employers, employees, and to all places of employment with three exceptions:
      • Workplaces where there is only one employee who does not have contact with other people.
      • Employees who are working from home or teleworking from a location of the employee's choice that is not under the control of the employer.
      • Employees who are covered by the Aerosol Transmissible Diseases regulation.
    • As required by the ETS, an employer must establish an effective written COVID-19 Prevention Program (CPP). The employer must include in their written program and implement the following items:
      • System for communicating with employees and other persons in the workplace about the employer's COVID-19 prevention procedures.
      • Identification, evaluation, and correction of COVID-19 hazards.
      •  Physical distancing is not required in the workplace except where an employer determines there is a hazard and for certain employees during outbreaks.
      • For face coverings, employers must:
        • Provide and ensure the use of face coverings by all individuals required by the CDPH to wear one.
        • Provide face coverings to employees who request one when they are not required.
        • Provide employees with a respirator, upon their request, for voluntary use.
        • Follow the CDPH requirement that businesses and venue operators, including K-12 school and childcare settings, allow any individual to wear a face covering if they prefer.
        • It is illegal for employers to retaliate against any worker for using face coverings.
      • Engineering controls, administrative controls and personal protective equipment that will be used to reduce transmission risk.
      • Procedures to investigate and respond to COVID-19 cases in the workplace.
      • Provide COVID-19 training and instruction to employees.
      • Provide testing to employees that develop symptoms and those that come into close contact with a COVID-19 case. In the case of multiple infections or a major outbreak, implement regular testing for employees in the exposed group, and ensure employees incur no cost for the testing. This means the employer must compensate employees at their regular rate of pay for the time to get tested, as well as travel time and travel costs to and from the testing site.
      • Exclusion of COVID-19 cases and employees that come into close contact and develop symptoms from the workplace until they are no longer an infection risk.
      • Maintain records of COVID-19 cases, and report serious illnesses to Cal/OSHA and cases and outbreaks to the local health department, as required.

Cal/OSHA has posted a Model COVID-19 Prevention Program (Microsoft Word document) on its website to assist employers with establishing their own COVID-19 Prevention Program for their workplace. The model program will be updated soon to reflect Cal/OSHA's revised emergency temporary standards in effect on May 6, 2022.

  • In addition to the ETS you should be aware of COVID-19 infection prevention and reporting requirements from AB 685:
    • Within one business day, employers must notify all employees, their authorized representative, and independent contractors and other employers at a worksite of potential exposures, COVID-19-related benefits and protections, and disinfection and safety measures that will be taken at the worksite in response to the potential exposure.
    • Employers must notify local public health agencies of all workplace outbreaks, which is defined as three or more laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among employees who live in different households within a two-week period.
  • Additionally, AB 685 enhanced Cal/OSHA's ability to conduct enforcement:
    • From January 1, 2021 until January 1, 2023, Cal/OSHA can issue an Order Prohibiting Use (OPU) to shut down an entire worksite or a specific worksite area that exposes employees to an imminent hazard related to COVID-19.
    • From January 1, 2021 until January 1, 2023, Cal/OSHA can issue citations for serious violations related to COVID-19 without giving employers 15-day notice before issuance.
  • Workers' Compensation Presumption (SB 1159): This new law creates two rebuttable presumptions that COVID-19 illnesses contracted by specific categories of employees are work related and therefore eligible for workers' compensation, including medical treatment.
    • The first presumption applies to COVID-19 workers' compensation claims filed by peace officers, firefighters, first responders, and health care workers.
    • The second presumption, for employers with five or more employees, applies to employees who test positive for COVID-19 during an outbreak at the employee's specific place of employment. An outbreak occurs when a set number of employees – depending on the number of employees at the workplace – test positive for COVID-19 during a continuous 14-day period.
      • Employers are required to report all employee infections at a specific workplace to their workers' compensation insurer, regardless of whether the infection appears to be work related. 
      • This is a rebuttable presumption meaning that an employer can present evidence regarding measures they have taken to reduce potential transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace.
  • 2022 COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave provides covered employees up to 80 hours of COVID-19 related paid leave. Up to 40 of those hours can be used for isolation and quarantine, receiving vaccines and caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed. The additional 40 hours are available only when an employee, or family member for whom the employee provides care, tests positive for COVID-19. The law originally expired on September 30, 2022 but the effective date was extended to December 31, 2022. Read more about this supplemental paid sick leave that is available in 2022 in the Labor Commissioner’s frequently asked questions.
  • Supplemental Paid Sick Leave (SPSL): In 2020, California authorized emergency COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave of up to 80 hours for most workers. The 2020 requirement expired on December 31, 2020. Another law, SB 95, authorized 2021 SPSL. The law went into effect on March 29 and was retroactive to January 1, 2021. The law required qualifying employees be provided up to 80 hours of supplemental paid sick leave if they are unable to work or telework due to specific COVID-19 reasons. The leave time also applied to getting a COVID-19 vaccine and recovering from symptoms related to the vaccine. 2021 SPSL is was in effect until September 30, 2021 for employers with 26 or more workers. Small businesses employing 25 or fewer workers were exempt from the law but may offer supplemental paid sick leave and receive a federal tax credit, if eligible. If your employees took unpaid time off due to COVID-19 before these laws expired, they might still be able to request pay after expiration.

September 2022