What California Employers Need To Know About Cal/OSHA’s Revised COVID-19 Standards
On June 17, 2021, the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Cal/OSHA) voted to adopt revised workplace standards for addressing the ongoing COVID-19 emergency. The governor subsequently signed an executive order giving immediate effect to these revised standards. According to Cal/OSHA, the revisions are designed to “provide options for employers to make a safe transition from physical distancing and face covering mandates to more normal operations.”
Vaccinations, Face Coverings & Employees
Under the June 17 order, an employee who has been fully vaccinated does not have to be tested for COVID-19 or subject to any quarantine period if they have been in “close contact” with a person who has COVID-19–unless that employee actually displays symptoms that could indicate COVID-19.
In general, fully vaccinated employees also do not have to wear face masks or face coverings while working indoors. Employers need to document an employee’s vaccination status. For example, an employer can ask to see an employee’s vaccine card and maintain a copy in the employer’s files. Keep in mind, an employee is not legally required to provide their vaccination status or proof of vaccination. However, if an employer cannot verify an employee’s status, the employer needs to treat that employee as unvaccinated.
Additionally, the revised standards require employers to provide any unvaccinated employees who request it an approved N95 ventilator for use while working indoors or inside a vehicle with other people. There is also no longer a need to enforce any physical distancing or barrier requirements, regardless of employee vaccination status, unless there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in the workplace.
And even if an employee is vaccinated, they may still choose to wear a face covering or face mask while working. Employers may not retaliate or otherwise discriminate against an employee for making that choice. Similarly, an employer may not discipline or discriminate against an employee who declines to provide their vaccination status–although again, the employer can still require such employees to wear face coverings while indoors.
New COVID Testing Requirements for Employers
Many aspects of Cal/OSHA’s original November 2020 standards remain in effect under the June 17 revisions. Just to review, those standards require employers to “establish, implement, and maintain an effective written COVID-19 Prevention Program.” All employers must have the Program in place and must now have any existing Program updated to meet these new requirements. This Program must include, among other things, text:
- Identifying and evaluating employee exposures to COVID-19 health hazards;
- Implementing effective policies and procedures to correct unsafe and unhealthy conditions; and
- Allowing adequate time for handwashing and cleaning frequently touched surfaces and objects.
If an employee has symptoms of COVID-19, or they are unvaccinated and have had close contact with anyone who has such symptoms, the employer must continue to “exclude” such employees from the workplace. And if a close contact was work-related, the employer must continue to pay the excluded employee their normal wages.
Finally, the revised standards now require employers to offer COVID-19 testing at no cost to employees during paid time if:
- They are unvaccinated and showing symptoms, even if there is no known exposure;
- They are unvaccinated and there has been an exposure;
- They are vaccinated but there has been an exposure and the employee is now showing symptoms;
- There has been an outbreak and the employee is not vaccinated; or
- There has been a major outbreak, in which case all employees are entitled to free testing.
It is critical for employers to have a COVID-19 Prevention Program in place now, and the Law Office of Karen J. Sloat, APC can draft a new Program for any employer at a reasonable fee. As Cal/OSHA continues to revise and refine these standards, it is also important to get timely legal advice from a qualified Riverside County & Coachella Valley employment lawyer representing employers. Contact the Law Office of Karen J. Sloat, APCtoday.