COVID-19 standards

California employers will recall that Cal/OSHA last November issued COVID-19 emergency temporary standards that were controversial. Now the agency is looking to implement revisions to the standards to make them less burdensome and more reflective of the current state of the pandemic in the U.S. as more and more people get vaccinated.

The Cal/OSH Standards Board will hold a meeting on June 3 to vote on the changes, which would be slated to take effect on June 15.

Employer groups say the revisions, if they take effect, would provide much-needed respite to many businesses. Here are the more significant changes in the proposed rules:

Exemptions for the vaccinated

The revised rules would provide significant exemptions to COVID-19 prevention rules for workers who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, as well as for workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days and have recovered or are now longer transmissible as they are considered “immune.” The proposals are:

  • As long as they remain symptom-free, fully vaccinated and immune workers would not need to quarantine if they come into close contact with another co-worker who tests positive.
  • Fully vaccinated workers who later contract COVID-19 would not need to quarantine as long as they remain symptom-free.
  • Fully vaccinated employees would be exempt from wearing face coverings if everyone in the room is also fully vaccinated and/or has no symptoms.

Definition of face coverings

The proposed rule redefines what constitutes a face covering as “a medical, surgical or two-fabric layer mask, or respirator.” It would exclude things like a scarf, ski mask, balaclava, bandana, turtleneck, collar or mask made of a single layer of fabric.

Physical distancing requirements

Physical distancing requirements (6 feet between workers, typically) would sunset on July 31.

Additionally, distancing requirements would not apply to workers wearing respirators and at locations where all staff are fully vaccinated.


The proposed rules would also sunset on July 31 a requirement that employers install cleanable solid partitions when employees are at workstations such as cash registers, desks, production lines and other locations where physical distancing cannot be maintained at all times.

COVID-19 testing

The proposed rules would require employers to provide free COVID-19 testing for workers who have COVID-19 symptoms and who are not fully vaccinated (as of July 31).

The proposed revision would also jettison the current requirement that the employer offer testing to workers who have come into contact with a colleague who has COVID-19, as long as those other workers are either fully vaccinated or have natural immunity.

The proposal also changes the testing requirements if there is an outbreak of cases in the workplace, which is defined in the current standards as when there are 20 or more COVID-19 cases in an exposed workplace within a 30-day period.

The existing rule requires that all employees at a workplace be tested if 4% of them test positive. It also requires that the employers provide free twice-a-week COVID-19 testing to all employees present at the exposed workplace during the relevant 30-day period and who remain at the workplace.

The new rule changes the word “workplace” to “work location at a worksite.” In other words, not all employees would have to be offered testing during an outbreak; only those that were exposed in the specific work area or common area where the infected employees spent time.

Also, outbreak testing would be required after there are three or more COVID-19 cases in an exposed group.

What’s next

As mentioned, these are proposed revisions. The Cal/OSHA Standards Board is slated to meet and vote on them on June 3.

If approved, they will allow many employers to start relaxing some of the requirements they’ve put in place to protect their employees. We’ll keep you posted with a follow-up next week.

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