Understanding the New California OSHA Emergency COVID-19 Regulations

The California division of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released new emergency standards to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces.

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What do these new California COVID-19 regulations require?

On November 19, 2020, California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued new regulations that require employers to create a Written COVID-19 Prevention Program and implement a list of procedures and protocols. These regulations followed COVID-19 cases skyrocketing in the Golden State, and they are some of the most demanding in the nation.

The law became effective November 30 and applies to any organization that has an employee onsite in California during the next 6-9 months. It will remain in effect for 180 days, with potential extensions up to 90 days if reapproved.

Written COVID-19 Prevention Program

The Emergency Temporary Standards require employers to create and implement a Written COVID-19 Prevention Program. A WCPP must include:

  • System for communicating to employees
  • Identification and evaluation of COVID-19 hazards
  • Investigating and responding to COVID-19 cases in the workplace
  • Correction of COVID-19 hazards
  • Employee training and instruction
  • Physical distancing
  • Face coverings
  • Other engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment
  • Reporting, recordkeeping, and access to records
  • Exclusion of COVID-19 cases from the workplace
  • Return to work criteria

Employers can integrate their WCPP into their “Injury and Illness Program” or maintain it in a separate document.

Below are more details on some specific WCPP requirements. For more information, read this notice.

Identify, evaluate, and correct COVID-19 hazards

Employers must identify all interactions, areas, activities, processes, equipment, and materials that could potentially put employees at risk of contracting COVID-19. When evaluating potential hazards, employers should recognize various places and times that put workers at risk — including when people may congregate or come in contact with one another or have exposure to other people who enter the workplace.

Employers must identify all interactions, areas, activities, processes, equipment, and materials that could potentially put employees at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Screening and testing

Employers must implement a process for screening employees for COVID-19 and responding to symptomatic workers. Businesses may ask employees to evaluate their own symptoms before reporting to work or to conduct screening at the workplace.

Testing for COVID-19 is not required unless an employer has an “outbreak” (defined as 3 or more COVID-19 cases in an exposed workplace within a 14-day period) or a “major outbreak” (defined as 20 or more COVID-19 cases in an exposed workplace within a 30-day period). If an outbreak happens, employers must provide testing and inform affected staff of the reason for the testing — along with the possible consequences of a positive test.

Physical distancing

The Emergency Temporary Standards require that employers separate employees from other people by at least 6 feet — except where an employer can demonstrate that it’s not possible to have 6 feet of separation during momentary movement. Employers should outline their specific methods of physical distancing, such as:

  • Telework
  • Staggered work times
  • Visual cues such as signs

Face coverings

Employers are required to provide face coverings and to ensure they are worn by employees when:

  1. Indoors
  2. Outdoors less than 6 feet away from other people, and
  3. Required by orders from California or local health departments

Investigating and responding to cases

The Emergency Temporary Standards require employers to have an effective procedure to investigate COVID-19 cases in the workplace, including procedures to:

  1. Verify COVID-19 case status
  2. Receive information regarding COVID-19 test results and the onset of COVID-19 symptoms, and
  3. Identify and record COVID-19 cases

Exclusion of COVID-19 cases from the workplace

Businesses must prevent any person from entering the workplace who:

  • Has a positive COVID-19 test, or
  • Is subject to COVID-19-related order to isolate issued by a local or state health official from the workplace until certain return to work requirements are met

Training

  • Employees must receive training that includes
  • The employer’s COVID-19 policies
  • Information related to COVID-19 related benefits
  • Certain facts about COVID-19
  • Methods of physical distancing
  • The importance of frequent hand washing
  • Proper use of face coverings, and
  • COVID-19 symptoms

Recordkeeping and reporting

Employers must maintain records of:

  1. Steps taken to implement their WCPP
  2. All COVID-19 cases

Employers must make those records available to workers or their authorized representatives.

COVID-19 cases in the workplace must be reported to the local health department whenever it’s required by law. Also, any COVID-19-related serious illnesses or death of employees in the workplace or in connection with employment must be reported to Cal/OSHA.

If you’re a small business owner or HR leader that needs help complying quickly and affordably, Zenefits has partnered with SixFifty and the California-based law firm Wilson Sonsini to create an automated compliance solution for these new regulations. This product delivers attorney expertise without the costly billable hour.

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