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June 21, 2021
California has new COVID-19 rules

Except when required during outbreaks, California workers no longer need to wear face coverings outside, and fully vaccinated workers do not need to wear them indoors. However, workers are explicitly allowed to wear a face covering without fear of retaliation from employers.

California workplaces have new emergency temporary standards (ETSs) for exposures to COVID-19. The ETS covers all workplaces not covered by the state’s permanent airborne transmissible disease (ATD) standard. The ETS, approved June 17 by the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, replaces the initial ETS approved in November 2020, and revisions were approved and withdrawn earlier this month.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed an Executive Order enabling the June 17 revisions to take effect without the normal 10-day period for review by the state’s Office of Administrative Law.

Under the revised ETS, if fully vaccinated employees do not wear face coverings indoors, their employers must document their vaccination status. Workers must wear face coverings, however, if the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) requires them during an outbreak.

Other revisions in the COVID-19 ETS include:

  • Fully vaccinated employees do not need to be offered testing or excluded from work after close contact unless they have COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Physical distancing requirements have been eliminated except where an employer determines there is a hazard and for certain employees during major outbreaks.
  • Employees who are not fully vaccinated may request respirators for voluntary use from their employers at no cost and without fear of retaliation from their employers.
  • Employees who are not fully vaccinated and exhibit COVID-19 symptoms must be offered testing by their employer.
  • Employer-provided housing and transportation are exempt from the regulations where all employees are fully vaccinated.
  • Employers must review the CDPH’s Interim guidance for Ventilation, Filtration, and Air Quality in Indoor Environments.
  • Employers must evaluate ventilation systems to maximize outdoor air and increase filtration efficiency and evaluate the use of additional air-cleaning systems.

The state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) currently is updating its model COVID-19 Prevention Program in English and Spanish and plans to hold compliance assistance webinars to be hosted by its Consultation Services Branch.

The board approved a set of revisions to the ETS on June 3 and then withdrew the revisions June 9. Cal/OSHA submitted a new set of revisions on June 11 for the board to consider at its June 17 meeting. Under California administrative law, emergency standards remain in effect for 180 days. The board may twice readopt temporary standards for an additional 90-day period each. Cal/OSHA may propose, and the board may consider, one more set of revisions to the COVID-19 ETS.

Like the recent revisions to employer guidance provided by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the California ETS eases some restrictions on fully vaccinated workers while maintaining protections for a workforce with mixed-vaccination status.

OSHA issued updated employer guidance on June 10 that is more closely aligned with recent public health recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also on June 10, the agency released text of an ETS that will only apply to the healthcare and healthcare support services industries. The as-yet-unpublished ETS primarily covers hospital ambulatory care but will extend to emergency medical services, home health care, and skilled nursing homes.

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