Cal-OSHA Eliminates Most Requirements for Vaccinated Employees, Continues Other COVID Protections

New COVID-19 Workplace Standards Adopted in California


Responding to intense criticism for failure to coordinate with other state and national guidance, California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (OSHSB) reversed course and adopted new proposed COVID-related workplace regulations at its June 17 meeting. California’s Office of Governor issued an Executive Order implementing them the same day.


The result: California has a new set of COVID workplace regulations effective immediately. The new regulations can be viewed here.


The standards do not apply to workers who have no contact with other persons or who work remotely at locations of their choice. They also do not apply to locations covered by the Aerosol Transmissible Diseases standard (such as hospitals, outpatient facilities, group care, public health, and law enforcement).


A guide to the revisions was published prior to the OSHAB meeting (view the guidance here). The Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH or “Cal-OSHA”) also revised its Frequently Asked Questions, which can be viewed and will be updated here. These resources provide the best agency-generated guide to workplace COVID-19 requirements.


Summary of Standards


1. Physical distancing requirements have been eliminated except where an employer determines there is a hazard and for certain employees during major outbreaks.


2. Fully vaccinated employees do not need to wear face coverings except for certain situations during outbreaks and in settings where the California Department of Public Health requires them (such as public transit, schools, childcare, healthcare settings, correctional facilities, and shelters, see here).


3. Employees are not required to wear face coverings when outdoors regardless of vaccination status except for certain employees during outbreaks.


4. Employees who are not fully vaccinated must wear face coverings indoors and in vehicles, and the employer must provide face coverings at no charge.


5. Fully vaccinated employees may request face coverings at no cost from the employer and wear them, even when not required, when feasible.


6. Employees who are not fully vaccinated may request respirators (rather than “face coverings”) at no cost. “Respirator” is more protective than “face covering,” requiring an N95 or better device. Cal-OSHA will not immediate cite employers who cannot obtain N95 or better respirators so long as they are trying in good faith to get them.


7. Employers must document the vaccination status of fully vaccinated employees if they do not wear face coverings indoors.


8. Fully vaccinated employees do not need to be offered testing or excluded from work after close contact unless they have COVID-19 symptoms.


9. Employees who are not fully vaccinated and exhibit COVID-19 symptoms must be offered testing by their employer.


10. Employers must review the Interim guidance for Ventilation, Filtration, and Air Quality in Indoor Environments (which can be viewed here).


11. Employers must evaluate ventilation systems to maximize outdoor air and increase filtration efficiency, and evaluate the use of additional air cleaning systems. (Employers should document this evaluation.)


Additional Considerations


Employers should continue following requirements that have not changed such as implementing a COVID-19 Prevention Program, notifying employees of potential exposures and offering testing in some situations, providing COVID-related training to employees, and excluding unvaccinated employees who experience a “close contact” at work. Businesses should also review and remain aware of additional requirements during workplace “outbreaks.”


Some other important aspects include:


· “Face coverings” include surgical masks, medical procedure masks, respirators, or “a tightly woven fabric or non-woven material of at least two layers.” They must cover both nose and mouth and do not include a scarf, ski mask, balaclava, bandana, turtleneck, collar, or single layer of fabric.


· “Fully vaccinated” means the employer has documented that the person received, at least 14 days prior, either the second dose in a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series or a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine.


· Unvaccinated employees who cannot wear an approved face covering due to a medical condition or disability must wear “an effective non-restrictive alternative, such as a face shield with a drape on the bottom” if possible.


· Unvaccinated employees who fall into an exemption and cannot wear a face covering or alternative, and do not maintain physical distancing, must be tested weekly at the employer’s expense.


Finally, the revisions do not interfere with other state and local requirements that are more protective such as Santa Clara County’s current mask and vaccine status verification requirements. (See these here.) All businesses should continue monitoring their local jurisdictions and any additional requirements applicable to their locations.


We will continue to monitor developments in the coming days. Employers should check Cal-OSHA resources frequently to stay abreast of daily developments and additional guidance as it is published.