CA Workplace COVID-19 Restrictions Are Now Significantly Relaxed

CA Workplace COVID-19 Restrictions Are Now Significantly Relaxed

By Kevin Rivera on 06/18/2021

Yesterday, Cal/OSHA approved new workplace rules that allow most fully vaccinated workers to stop wearing masks, and ends physical distancing requirements for all workers. Due to an executive order issued by the governor, the new rules go into effect immediately.

The key takeaways are as follows:

Fully vaccinated employees no longer have to wear face coverings indoors.

Fully vaccinated employees in most workplaces can now stop wearing masks in their places of employment. “Fully vaccinated” means the employee has received the final dose of the vaccine at least 14 days prior to certifying they are fully vaccinated. Employees in certain indoor settings must wear a face covering regardless of vaccination status if required by California Department of Public Health (CDPH) order. As of June 15, those indoor settings where CDPH requires face coverings include public transit, K-12 educational facilities, health care and long-term care settings, correctional and detention facilities, and shelters (homeless or emergency shelters and cooling centers).

In order to permit fully vaccinated employees to go maskless, employers are required to document the vaccination status of their employees. While the regulations do not say how employers may document this, Cal/OSHA has issued guidance stating that acceptable options include:

  • Employees may provide proof of vaccination (vaccine card, image of vaccine card or health care document showing vaccination status) and the employer maintains a copy.
  • Employees may provide proof of vaccination, with the employer maintaining a record of the employees who presented proof, but not the vaccine record itself.
  • Employees may self-attest to vaccination status and employer maintains a record of who self-attests.

If you will be keeping a copy of the proof of vaccination, make sure to keep this in a confidential medical file that is separate from the personnel file.

Nothing in the revised regulations prevents an employer from requiring all employees to wear a face mask instead of having a documentation process.

Cal/OSHA has released guidance stating that employees have the right to decline to state if they are vaccinated or not, and that in that case, the employer must treat the employee as unvaccinated and must not take disciplinary or discriminatory action against the employee.

Employers cannot retaliate against workers who choose to wear face coverings, even if they are fully vaccinated.

Face coverings are still required indoors and in vehicles for unvaccinated employees, with a few exceptions. The most common are when the employee is alone in a room or vehicle, when eating or drinking, and when a medical accommodation is required.

  • Importantly, under the updated rule, permissible face coverings have been limited to surgical masks, medical procedure masks, respirators such as N95s, and tightly woven fabric or non-woven material masks of at least two layers. This means many of the normal fabric masks employees have been using are no longer be permissible.

Face coverings are no longer required outdoors for anyone (except during outbreaks), regardless of vaccination status.

Social distancing is no longer required in most instances. 

Employers are no longer required to implement physical distancing regardless of employee vaccination status.

The approved standards also do away with the requirement for solid, cleanable partitions designed to reduce viral transmission.

However, employers must evaluate whether it is necessary to implement physical distancing and barriers during a COVID-19 outbreak (3 or more cases in an exposed group of employees), and must implement physical distancing and barriers during a major outbreak (20 or more cases in an exposed group of employees).

Nothing in the revised regulations prevents employers from implementing additional protective measures than are required, including the use of physical distancing and barriers.

N95 respirators must be provided to unvaccinated employees upon request. 

Employers must provide unvaccinated employees with respirators approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), such as N95s, for voluntary use when working indoors or in a vehicle with others, upon request. A list of NIOSH-approved respirators may be found here.

The new regulations contain many other changes, large and small, for employers operating in California, and may be found here.

Notably, city and county ordinances may impose more restrictive requirements on employers operating in their jurisdiction.

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