What California Employees Need to Know About COVID Safety Regulations in the Workplace
California employees should know their rights when it comes to COVID safety regulations approved by Cal/OSHA for workplaces. At the end of November, the California Division of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) approved an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that applies to all California workplaces. It will remain in effect for six months or until Cal/OSHA can implement a permanent rule regarding infectious diseases.
What Does the COVID-19 Standard Require?
Your employer must maintain a written COVID-19 Prevention Program and make it available to employees, their representatives, and government entities. In addition to state and local health department directives, the program must include:
- Face-covering and physical distancing requirements
- Systems for communicating important information to all employees
- Steps for identifying, evaluating, and dealing with COVID-19 risks
- Protocols for investigating and responding to COVID-19 in the workplace
- Employee instruction and training on important information and processes
- Requirements for personal protective equipment (PPE), administrative controls, and engineering controls
- Requirements for access, reporting, and recordkeeping
- Rules that require workers exposed to COVID-19 to be removed from the workplace
- Criteria for employees to return after infection or exposure
The ETS also requires your employer to:
- Notify any employees who may have been exposed to COVID-19 at work within one business day
- Provide testing for all exposed workers at no cost
Is Your Workplace an Outbreak Site?
According to the ETS, your workplace can be declared an outbreak site if:
- Three or more COVID cases appear within 14 days OR;
- The local health department makes the designation
If this happens, your employer must immediately provide testing to all exposed employees and follow up at least once per week until the workplace is no longer considered an outbreak site.
Workplaces with 20 or more COVID cases within a 30-day period will be declared a major outbreak site. If this happens, your employer must notify the local health department within 48 hours and test all employees twice a week until the workplace is no longer a major outbreak site.
Your Right to Paid Leave
The ETS specifically states that if you are exposed to COVID-19, you may not return to your job for 14 days. During this time, your employer must continue to pay you and not reduce or revoke your rights, seniority, and benefits. (They may, however, use sick leave benefits to cover your wages.)
If you test positive for COVID-19 and develop symptoms, you may not return to work until at least 10 days have passed since your symptoms first appeared. In addition:
- At least 24 hours must pass since your fever resolves without medication
- Your symptoms must have improved before you can return
If you never develop symptoms, you cannot return to work until at least 10 days have passed since your first positive test.
Employer-Provided Housing and Transportation
The ETS contains provisions to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in employer-provided housing and transportation. Assignments will be prioritized for those who maintain a household and those who work in the same team or at the same site. All provided housing and transportation must include physical distancing and (if necessary) isolation measures, ventilation, disinfection, and cleaning protocols.
The ETS is designed to keep California workplaces safe without incurring wage loss. If your employer violates your rights by refusing to pay you for time lost after COVID-19 exposure or implement appropriate safety measures after an outbreak, contact a California employment law attorney immediately.
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DISCLAIMER: This article does not provide legal advice and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.