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

California has new 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. On June 17, 2021 the emergency temporary standards were readopted with revisions. There were changes to face covering, physical distancing, testing and other requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated workers.
    • 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.
      • Ensuring the proper use of face coverings:
        • Employees are not required to wear face coverings when outdoors regardless of vaccination status except for certain employees during outbreaks.
        • Fully vaccinated employees do not need to wear face coverings indoors or in vehicles, except for certain situations during outbreaks and in settings where CDPH requires all persons to wear face coverings. Employers must document the vaccination status of fully vaccinated employees if they do not wear face coverings indoors.
        • Employees required to wear face coverings, such as unvaccinated employees working indoors, are permitted to not wear a face covering under certain circumstances.
          • When an employee is alone in a room or vehicle.
          • While eating or drinking at the workplace, provided employees are at least six feet apart and outside air supply to the area, if indoors, has been maximized to the extent feasible.
          • Employees wearing respirators required by the employer and used in compliance in accordance with section 5144 or other title 8 safety orders.
          • Employees who cannot wear face coverings due to a medical or mental health condition or disability, or who are hearing-impaired or communicating with a hearing-impaired person.
          • While doing specific tasks which cannot feasibly be performed with a face covering. This exception is limited to the time period in which such tasks are actually being performed.
        • Employees who are not fully vaccinated may request respirators like N95 masks for voluntary use from their employers at no cost and without fear of retaliation from their employers.
      • 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 who are not fully vaccinated, and vaccinated employees that develop symptoms and come into close contact with a COVID-19 case, and in the case of multiple infections or a major outbreak, implement regular testing for employees in the exposed group and who are not vaccinated, and ensure employees incur no cost for the testing. This means you 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, unvaccinated employees that come into close contact, and vaccinated 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 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 June 17, 2021.

  • 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.
  • • 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 in 2021, they might still be able to request pay after September 30. The Labor Commissioner's Office has Frequently Asked Questions about 2021 SPSL in English and Spanish.

September 2021