CSAC Bulletin Article

Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Regulations for Employees Takes Effect

December 3, 2020

This week a set of COVID-19 regulations for workplaces was approved by the Office of Administrative Law (OAL). The new rules, which took effect immediately, were originally released by California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) as emergency regulations in mid-November, after an extremely rushed process, and set standards for most California workers. The rules do not apply to employees working from home or those covered by Cal/OSHA’s Aerosol Transmissible Diseases standard. Emergency regulations generally remain in effect for 180 days, at which point they will either need to be extended by OAL or adopted by regular rule-making.

The regulations increase the state’s ability to enforce COVID-19 related workplace safety measures by turning a number of guidelines in to rules. Among the new rules are requirements that employers provide COVID-19 testing to all employees if there is a workplace outbreak (defined as three or more COVID-19 cases in a 14-day period), provide free masks and other protective equipment, and establish both a written training program and prevention plan to minimize workplace transmission. In addition, workplaces that do experience out breaks will be required to notify local public health departments and pay any employees needing to quarantine for 14 days. Cal/OSHA has released some guiding information on the new rules, including Frequently Asked Questions, a One-Page Fact Sheet, and an example of a COVID-19 Prevention Plan.

After their publication last month, CSAC immediately began working with a broad coalition to highlight and share significant concerns on the inconsistencies within the regulations as compared to other current standards as well as new laws signed by the Governor. The coalition sent a letter describing the aforementioned concerns and explaining the burden complying with these regulations would put on public and private employers. Despite objections and concerns from the employer community, Cal/OSHA approved the emergency regulations, which cleared the way for them to be sent to OAL for approval.

CSAC continued working with the coalition and submitted another advocacy letter to the Office of Administrative Law ahead of their consideration of the regulations. This included concerns about OSHA requiring (1) sick leave to be provided by employers and (2) lack of clarity on the language and the potential for multiple interpretations. Although precedent indicated the changes of OAL rejecting the emergency regulations were low, CSAC felt it was still important to document those concerns from the county perspective. Ultimately OAL did approve the emergency regulations, which went into effect on November 30, 2020.

Because these regulations create complex burdens on county employers, especially when taken in context with AB 685 (bill text) and SB 1159 (bill text), CSAC will continue its ardent advocacy in working with Cal/OSHA to update and clarify concerns. Additionally, the Occupational Safety & Health Standards Board has requested OSHA convene an advisory committee in January to discuss the regulations and other COVID-19 issues. CSAC will continue to advocate for amendments to regulations that negatively impact counties. For further information, or to share specific impacts within your county, please do not hesitate to contact Ryan Souza at rsouza@counties.org.

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