Fully vaccinated workers in California without symptoms can now go completely mask-free, though unvaccinated workers must continue to mask up indoors unless they are alone in a room or eating and drinking.
The Standards Board of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA, issued new revisions this week to the COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that incorporate the latest public health guidance. After the Board approved the revised guidelines (ETS 2.0), Governor Gavin Newsom issued an Executive Order declaring ETS 2.0 effective once the revision is filed with the Office of Administrative Law.
California Businesses Respond
While the revisions are welcome, they fall short, says a coalition of state and regional business associations — including Western Growers. The coalition immediately issued a response to the new workplace regulations.
Here’s the full statement from the coalition, which includes, among others, the following organizations: California Business Roundtable, California African American Chamber of Commerce, California Restaurant Association, and California Retailers Association.
“Today’s actions are a step in the right direction, and we sincerely thank the governor for issuing an Executive Order to help expedite clarity for employers and employees. However, there is still more work to be done and these new Cal/OSHA regulations do not ensure that the economy can ‘roar’ back.
“Instead, they continue to not align with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and are inconsistent with other large states like New York, which have fully opened without similar confusion and frustration. The California standard continues to raise questions related to privacy, liability, and duration of the standards. These must be addressed to ensure businesses can bring their employees back and fully reopen the economy.
“We will continue our work with the governor on these outstanding issues to clean up the confusion and provide clear answers for all businesses. We also encourage all Californians to get vaccinated so California can see a full economic recovery and not have to backtrack on the progress we have made.”
Under the changes, employers also must provide N95 masks to unvaccinated workers upon request when they are working indoors or in a vehicle.
In addition, there are no physical distancing or bed spacing requirements whatsoever in H-2A or other employer-provided housing, and no distancing in employer-provided transportation. In cases where all employees are vaccinated in employer-provided housing and transportation, employers are exempt from those regulations altogether.
Changes Reflect Concern for Ag Workers
State officials have been wary of opening up the state, and also have been especially concerned about farmworkers, going so far as to launch a $3 million project, the COVID-19 Statewide Agriculture and Farmworker Education Program, to help reverse a trend that shows a sector of the workforce that has been heavily impacted by the virus.
According to Cal/OSHA, the changes from the original ETS include the following:
- Fully vaccinated employees without symptoms do not need to be tested or quarantined after close contacts with COVID-19 cases unless they have symptoms.
- No face covering requirements outdoors (except during outbreaks), regardless of vaccination status; however, workers should be trained on California Department of Public Health recommendations for outdoor use of face coverings.
- Employers must document the vaccination status of workers who choose not to wear masks. In the event of an outbreak, all employees must wear face coverings indoors and outdoors when six-feet physical distancing cannot be maintained, regardless of vaccination status.
- No physical distancing or barrier requirements regardless of employee vaccination status with the following exceptions:
- Employers must evaluate whether it is necessary to implement physical distancing and barriers during an outbreak (three or more cases in an exposed group of employees).
- Employers must implement physical distancing and barriers during a major outbreak (20 or more cases in an exposed group of employees).
- Employers must evaluate ventilation systems to maximize outdoor air and increase filtrations efficiency, and evaluate the use of additional air cleaning systems.
Many of the original ETS requirements remain in place, including the following:
- An effective written COVID-19 Prevention Program.
- Providing effective training and instruction to employees on the employer’s prevention plan and their rights under the ETS.
- Providing notification to public health departments of outbreaks.
- Providing notification to employees of exposure and close contacts.
- Requirements to offer testing after potential exposures.
- Requirements for responding to COVID-19 cases and outbreaks.
- Quarantine and exclusion pay requirements.
- Basic prevention requirements for employer-provided housing and transportation.