COVID-19

California Readopts COVID-19 ETS

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board December 16 readopted the state’s COVID-19 prevention emergency temporary standard (ETS), with revisions. The revised ETS incorporates the latest recommendations from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).

The readopted state ETS does not contain the vaccine-or-testing requirements of the November 5 federal ETS, which was under an indefinite judicial stay when the board met. The revised California COVID-19 ETS becomes effective January 14, 2022.

Along with the COVID-19 prevention ETS, the board also readopted revised emergency rules for multiple COVID-19 infections and outbreaks, major COVID-19 outbreaks, and prevention in employer-provided housing and vehicles.

The ETSs apply to employers in the state not subject to the permanent airborne transmissible disease (ATD) standard. The ATD standard applies to correctional and healthcare facilities and emergency services.

Revisions to the emergency rules first adopted November 2020 and readopted June 17 include:

  • Employers must properly notify employees, employee representatives, and any other workers at a worksite of possible COVID-19 exposures within one business day. The section was updated to give employers clearer instructions on how to notify workers who were at the same worksite as the COVID-19 case during a high-risk exposure period.
  • The definition of face coverings was updated to include more detail on the different types of acceptable face coverings. The face coverings definition excludes bandanas; balaclavas; scarves; ski masks; any single layer of fabric; and material with holes, punctures, or slits.
  • Employers will be required to make COVID-19 testing available at no cost and during paid time to employees who were fully vaccinated before a “close contact” with a COVID-19 case occurred, even if they are asymptomatic.
  • Employers also must now make weekly testing during outbreaks or twice-weekly testing during major outbreaks available to asymptomatic, fully vaccinated employees in the exposed group.
  • Employees who have recently recovered from COVID-19 and those who are fully vaccinated are not required to be excluded from the workplace after “close contact” but must wear a face covering and maintain 6 feet of physical distancing for 14 calendar days after the last date of contact.

The board also adopted revised return-to-work criteria. The period of time before an employee can return to work after close contact or COVID-19 infection was revised to be consistent with current CDPH guidelines. The return-to-work criteria will automatically update if the CDPH updates its guidelines.

Many requirements remain unchanged in the COVID-19 prevention ETS. Employers must continue to maintain an effective COVID-19 prevention program that includes identifying and evaluating employee exposures to COVID-19 health hazards and employee training. Training must cover how COVID-19 is spread; infection prevention techniques; the company’s prevention program; and any federal, state, or local COVID-19 benefits. Employers still are required to allow adequate time for hand-washing and the cleaning of frequently touched surfaces and objects.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) will both oversee enforcement of the emergency rules and provide employer assistance in compliance.

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. The January 14 rules are the final extension of the ETS.