COVID-19 continues to be a prevalent issue worldwide and in the workplace. To keep California workers safe in their respective workplaces, legislation has passed multiple bills regarding COVID-19 workplace exposure, guidance, and vaccination regulations, several of which have already gone into effect. Here are the three main COVID-19 related employment laws that employers must be aware of in the new year.

1. Assembly Bill 654

Assembly Bill 685 (AB 685) established a COVID-19 notification framework for employers. When an employer receives notice of potential COVID-19 exposure, the employer must, within one business day, provide certain employees with written notice of three things: (1) the potential exposure, (2) information on COVID-19-related benefits, and (3) information on the disinfection and safety plans that the employer plans to implement.

On October 5, 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom signed revisions to AB 685, which has been codified under Assembly Bill 654 and took effect immediately. The updated version corrects inconsistencies in terminology and clarifies employers’ COVID-19 workplace exposure notice and reporting requirements. The following changes remain effective until January 1, 2023:

  • AB 654 revises the timeframe in which an employer must give notice to the local public health agency of a COVID-19 outbreak. Employers now have 48 hours or one business day, whichever is later.
  • AB 654 expands the list of employers who are exempt from reporting outbreaks to local public health agencies to now include – among others – adult day health centers, community clinics and care facilities, certain residential care facilities, and child daycare facilities.
  • AB 654 clarifies the universe of employees who must be provided notice of COVID-19-related benefits after an outbreak. Employers are now required to provide notice of COVID-19-related benefits to all employees who were on the premises at the same worksite as the “qualifying individual” (i.e., the person who may have COVID-19) within the infection period. Similarly, AB 654 now requires employers to provide notice of cleaning and disinfection plans only to employees (and the employers of subcontracted employees), who were on the premises at the same worksite as the qualifying individual within the infectious period.
  • AB 654 adds the “delivery of renewable natural gas” to the list of critical government functions that may not be materially interrupted by COVID-19-related Cal/OSHA rules.

2. Senate Bill 336

Senate Bill 336 (SB 336) was signed into immediate effect on October 4, 2021. The bill requires the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) or local health officers to issue mandatory COVID-19-related guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19. By creating new duties for local health officers, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program. SB 331 makes the following provisions operative while an order or mandatory guidance issued by the department or a local health officer is in effect:

  • Publish, on its internet website, the order or mandatory guidance and the date that the order or mandatory guidance takes effect.
  • Create an opportunity for local communities, businesses, nonprofit organizations, individuals, and others to sign up for an email distribution list to receive any updates and changes to the department’s order or mandatory guidance.

This bill will make it easier for employers and businesses to track and implement the most current COVID-19 orders and guidance.

3. Cal/OSHA Workplace COVID-19 Mandates

Legislation is continuing to monitor the constantly evolving nature of COVID-19. On September 23, 2021, Cal/OSHA hosted an advisory committee meeting to discuss the possibilities of permanent vaccination regulations. Despite the fact that this discussion was just meant to form a draft of what the Cal/OSHA Board might approve in 2022, we are expecting some changes to go into effect regarding workplace COVID-19 mandates in California. Although there is no clear date as to when Cal/OSHA will adopt a second emergency regulation on COVID-19, it is very likely that they will do so. This new regulation will be focused on COVID-19 vaccination to comply with the federal requirement to adopt an equivalent standard to Biden’s vaccine mandate.

A federal appeals court on Nov. 12 ordered OSHA to stop taking steps to enforce the mandate on private employers. However, all other requirements under OSHA rules have taken effect on December 5, 2021. These requirements are providing paid time to get vaccinated and masking unvaccinated workers. With this in mind, it is important to remember that all businesses with 100 or more workers fall under the OSHA rules. Those who do not comply with the current regulations are subject to fines of $13,653 per violation and 10 times that amount per willful violation.

Key Takeaways

As the pandemic shifts and evolves, the California Legislature is continuing to take COVID-19 regulations seriously, especially as businesses and workplaces reopen in person. To guarantee the safety of your business and employees, employers must be aware of all the new COVID-19 regulations that are being implemented. If you need assistance navigating COVID-19 regulations and vaccinations in the workplace, please contact Hackler Flynn & Associates.

DISCLAIMER: Content within this post should not be considered legal advice and is for informational purposes only. Communications made through this post do not create an attorney-client relationship. Hackler Flynn & Associates is not responsible for any content that you may access from third-party resources that may be accessed through or linked to this post. Hackler Flynn & Associates is only licensed to practice in California.

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