I Want to Have a Safer and Healthier Workplace What new COVID-19 laws should I be aware of?

California has new laws and regulations to protect workers and to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infection at workplaces.

  1. The COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) became effective and enforceable on November 30, 2020.
    • The ETS applies to all employers, employees, and to all places of employment with three exceptions:
      • Workplaces where there is only one employee who does not have contact with other people.
      • Employees who are working from home.
      • Employees who are covered by the Aerosol Transmissible Diseases regulation.
    • As required by the ETS, an employer must establish an effective written COVID-19 Prevention Program (CPP). The employer must include in their written program and implement the following items:
      • System for communicating with employees about the employer's COVID-19 prevention procedures.
      • Identification, evaluation, and correction of COVID-19 hazards.
      • Methods of physical distancing of at least six feet.
      • Provide face coverings and ensure employees use them.
      • Engineering controls, administrative controls and personal protective equipment that will be used to reduce transmission risk.
      • Procedures to investigate and respond to COVID-19 cases in the workplace.
      • Provide COVID-19 training and instruction to employees.
      • Provide testing to employees who are exposed to a COVID-19 case, and in the case of multiple infections or a major outbreak, implement regular testing for employees in the exposed work areas and ensure employees incur no cost for the testing. This means you must compensate employees at their regular rate of pay for the time to get tested, as well as travel time and travel costs to and from the testing site.
      • Exclusion of COVID-19 cases and exposed employees from the workplace until they are no longer an infection risk.
      • Maintain records of COVID-19 cases and report serious illnesses and multiple cases to Cal/OSHA and the local health department, as required.

    Cal/OSHA has posted a Model COVID-19 Prevention Program (Microsoft Word document) on its website to assist employers with establishing their own COVID-19 Prevention Program for their workplace.

  2. In addition to the ETS you should be aware of new COVID-19 infection prevention requirements from AB 685. These requirements became effective on January 1, 2021:
    • Employers must notify all employees at a worksite of potential exposures, COVID-19-related benefits and protections, and disinfection and safety measures that will be taken at the worksite in response to the potential exposure.
    • Employers must notify local public health agencies of all workplace outbreaks, which is defined as three or more laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among employees who live in different households within a two-week period.

    Additionally, AB 685 enhanced Cal/OSHA's ability to conduct enforcement:

    • From January 1, 2021 until January 1, 2023, Cal/OSHA can issue an Order Prohibiting Use (OPU) to shut down an entire worksite or a specific worksite area that exposes employees to an imminent hazard related to COVID-19.
    • From January 1, 2021 until January 1, 2023, Cal/OSHA can issue citations for serious violations related to COVID-19 without giving employers 15-day notice before issuance.
  3. Workers' Compensation Presumption (SB 1159): This new law creates two rebuttable presumptions that COVID-19 illnesses contracted by specific categories of employees are work related and therefore eligible for workers' compensation, including medical treatment.
    • The first presumption applies to COVID-19 workers' compensation claims filed by peace officers, firefighters, first responders, and health care workers.
    • The second presumption, for employers with five or more employees, applies to employees who test positive for COVID-19 during an outbreak at the employee's specific place of employment. An outbreak occurs when a set number of employees – depending on the number of employees at the workplace – test positive for COVID-19 during a continuous 14-day period.
      • Employers are required to report all employee infections at a specific workplace to their workers' compensation insurer, regardless of whether the infection appears to be work related. 
      • This is a rebuttable presumption meaning that an employer can present evidence regarding measures they have taken to reduce potential transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace.
  4. Supplemental Paid Sick Leave (SPSL): In 2020, California authorized emergency COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave of up to 80 hours for most workers. The 2020 requirement expired on December 31, 2020. A new law, SB 95, authorized 2021 SPSL. The law went into effect on March 29 and is retroactive to January 1, 2021. The law requires qualifying employees be provided up to 80 hours of supplemental paid sick leave if they are unable to work or telework due to specific COVID-19 reasons. The leave time now also applies to getting a COVID-19 vaccine and recovering from symptoms related to the vaccine. 2021 SPSL is in effect until September 30, 2021 for employers with 26 or more workers. Small businesses employing 25 or fewer workers are exempt from the law but may offer supplemental paid sick leave and receive a federal tax credit, if eligible. The Labor Commissioner’s Office has Frequently Asked Questions about 2021 SPSL in English and Spanish.


April 2021