What California Workers Need to Know About the State’s New COVID-19 Workplace Rules
Wednesday, December 02, 2020
More than eight months into the pandemic, California officially has rules in place aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19 at workplaces.
The emergency rules will be in effect at least until late May. The standards board of Cal-OSHA may extend the period and could also work to make those rules permanent.
Here’s what to know about the new rules.
WHAT DOES MY EMPLOYER NEED TO DO TO PREVENT THE SPREAD OF THE CORONAVIRUS?
Masks: Your employer must provide face coverings and ensure you and your co-workers wear them over the nose and mouth when indoors, or outdoors and less than six feet away from another person. Some exceptions apply.
Anyone not wearing a face covering, face shield with a drape or other effective alternative must be at least six feet apart from others unless the employee is tested at least twice a week.
Physical Distancing: Workers should be separated from others by at least six feet if possible, by taking measures such as letting people work remotely or staggering work schedules.
If such measures can’t be in place, workers must be separated as far apart as possible.
Others: Employers must regularly disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs and prevent or minimize sharing of items such as phones, desks and tools. Employees must be given time to wash their hands.
Employers also must maximize the amount of outside air coming into the workplace, unless the air quality index is above 100 or the weather is too hot or cold.
Training: Employers are required to provide training on the company’s COVID-19 policies and procedures, as well as COVID-19-related benefits such as workers’ compensation.
WHAT DOES MY EMPLOYER NEED TO DO IF SOMEONE AT MY WORKPLACE TESTS POSITIVE FOR COVID-19?
Your employer must determine who may have had been within six feet of that person for at least 15 minutes in any 24-hour period within or overlapping with the high-risk exposure period.
The high-risk exposure period starts two days before the person developed symptoms and ends 10 days after symptoms first appeared, as long as the person spent a whole day with no fever. For those without symptoms, the period is defined as two days before and ten days after they got tested for COVID-19.
If your employer determines you may have been exposed to COVID-19, you must be notified within one business day. Your employer must offer COVID-19 testing at no cost to you during working hours.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE’S A CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK AT MY WORKPLACE?
An outbreak is defined as when a workplace has three or more COVID-19 cases within a 14-day period. The workplace is defined as any working area used or accessed by those who tested positive during their high-risk exposure period.
“Cal/OSHA does not expect employers to treat areas where masked workers momentarily pass through the same space without interacting or congregating as an “exposed workplace,” the agency said in its FAQ page.
A major outbreak is defined as when a workplace has 20 or more COVID-19 cases within a 30-day period. In either case, the outbreak is considered over when there are no new COVID-19 cases detected in a workplace for 14 days.
Your employer must notify the local health department no later than 48 hours after it finds out – or with diligent inquiry would have known – about the outbreak. They must investigate their COVID-19 policies and implement changes as necessary.
In an outbreak, all employees who were at the workplace during the outbreak must be tested immediately, then again a week later at no cost. Employees who remain at the workplace must be tested at least once per week until the outbreak ends.
In a major outbreak, all employees who were at the workplace during the outbreak must be tested at least twice a week. Employers must evaluate whether they need to stop some or all of their operations.
I WAS EXPOSED TO OR TESTED POSITIVE FOR COVID-19. WILL I STILL GET PAID? WHEN CAN I RETURN TO WORK?
If you’re exposed to COVID-19, your employer must keep you out of the workplace for 14 days after your last known exposure.
If you tested positive for COVID-19 with no symptoms, your employer needs to keep you out of the workplace for 10 days since you got tested. If you have symptoms, you can’t return to work for 10 days after those symptoms first appeared. You also can’t return unless you have a day without a fever of 100.4 or higher. Some exceptions apply.
The new rules say your employer must “continue and maintain” your earnings, seniority and other rights and benefits, through methods such as company-provided sick leave or government-provided aid. But this rule doesn’t apply if your employer can demonstrate your COVID-19 exposure is not work-related.
WILL THE NEW RULES APPLY TO ME?
The rules don’t apply to those working from home. Those working alone at a place where they don’t have contact with others are also exempt.
Those working at hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and other healthcare workplaces are also exempt, because they are covered by separate rules that have been in place even before the pandemic.
HOW CAN I MAKE SURE MY EMPLOYER FOLLOWS THE RULES?
Cal-OSHA recommends gathering as much information as possible before you call. For instance, what rule is your employer not following, and for how long? How many people may be exposed because of your employer’s action or inaction?
You can submit a complaint to Cal-OSHA anonymously.
If you are an employer, Cal-OSHA provides free consultation to help you follow the rules. Visit the agency’s website for more information.
Of note: Starting Jan. 1, Cal-OSHA can shut down an entire worksite or a specific area that exposes workers to an imminent hazard related to COVID-19.
HOW ARE THOSE RULES DIFFERENT FROM THE GUIDANCE ISSUED BY THE STATE THIS YEAR?
The guidance didn’t lay out a protocol for how employers can respond to workplace outbreaks, Cal-OSHA Chief Doug Parker said at the standards board’s Nov. 19 meeting.
Parker also said having those official rules in place will strengthen his agency’s ability to enforce them.
“While we have confidence we are within our jurisdiction and scope of authority to issue the citations we have, there are still levels of uncertainty that would be clarified without doubt by passing this rule,” Parker said before the new standards were approved.
WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT THE RULES?
Cal-OSHA also has a one-pager on what employers should know.