On June 3, 2021, California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Cal/OSHA) took the first step towards adopting revised regulations relating to COVID-19 in the workplace. These revisions include updates to requirements for face coverings, physical distancing, and other preventive measures for both vaccinated and unvaccinated workers. The rules will apply in almost every workplace in California, except for those employees working from home or where there is a only single employee in the workplace who does not have contact with other people. The revised regulations are presently expected to take effect June 15.

Although the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that persons who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear face coverings nor physically distance in nearly all situations, whether indoor or outdoor, and even though California is set to follow that recommendation effective as of June 15, Cal/OSHA’s proposed rule will mean that even vaccinated employees must remain masked unless everyone else in their workplace also is vaccinated.  The updated regulations provide the following:

  • Face Coverings:
    • When indoors, fully vaccinated workers without COVID-19 symptoms do not need to wear face coverings in a room where everyone else is fully vaccinated and not showing symptoms. However, where there is a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated persons in a room, all workers – even those who have been vaccinated – will continue to be required to wear a face covering.
    • No face coverings are required while eating or drinking in the workplace, provided employees are at least six feet apart and outside air supply to indoor areas has been maximized.
    • When outdoors, fully vaccinated workers without COVID-19 symptoms do not need to wear face coverings. However, outdoor workers who are not fully vaccinated must continue to wear a face covering when they are less than six feet away from another person.
    • There are additional exceptions for employees who cannot wear face coverings due to medical or mental health conditions  or disabilities (but those exceptions impose additional requirements, such as testing).
  • Physical Distancing: When the revised regulations take effect (presumably on June 15), employers can eliminate physical distancing and partitions/barriers for employees working indoors and at outdoor large-scale events if they provide respirators, such as N95 masks, to unvaccinated employees for voluntary use. Alternatively, employees must continue to be separated from other persons by at least six feet unless all employees are wearing masks required by the employer, or the employer can demonstrate that six feet of separation is not feasible, and during momentary exposure when persons are in motion. After July 31, physical distancing and barriers will no longer be required at all (except during outbreaks), but employers must provide all unvaccinated employees with masks meeting N95 standards for voluntary use.
  • Prevention Program: Employers remain required to maintain a written COVID-19 Prevention Program, but there are some key changes to requirements:
    • Employers must review the California Department of Public Health’s Interim Guidance for Ventilation, Filtration, and Air Quality in Indoor Environments, which includes recommendations for practical steps to promote better ventilation and air filtration and  quality.
    • COVID-19 prevention training must now include information on how the vaccine is effective at preventing COVID-19 and protecting against both transmission and serious illness or death.
  • Exclusion from the Workplace: Fully vaccinated workers who do not have COVID-19 symptoms no longer need to be excluded from the workplace after a close contact with a person who is COVID-19 positive or exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

Although these revised regulations are set to go into effect soon, stay tuned for further developments, as the proposed regulations still have to be reviewed by the California Office of Administrative Law, which has ten calendar days to review and approve the new temporary standards. FAQs to help employers understand how to comply with these rules will hopefully be forthcoming. The Board also convened a subcommittee to work with Cal/OSHA on a proposal for further updates to the standard, but that may take several months. In the interim, it is possible that the California’s Governor could overturn the rule via executive order. For now however, California employers should review the proposed revised regulations and take appropriate steps to comply should they go into effect as expected.