Governor Gavin Newsom has signed AB 685, which will require employers to provide employees with specific notice after becoming aware of a potential COVID-19 exposure in the workplace. The new law also gives the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CalOSHA) the authority to shut down a facility if it’s deemed to be an imminent hazard risk due to COVID-19 infection. This new law goes into effect on January 1, 2021, and is set to expire on January 1, 2023.
Under the new law, when there is a potential COVID-19 exposure in the workplace, employers must provide specific written notices to all employees (including employers of subcontracted employees, and any exclusive representative of employees) who were on the premises at the same worksite while a “qualifying individual” was infectious. A qualifying individual means a person who has: (1) a confirmed COVID-19 test or diagnosis; (2) an order from a public official to isolate due to COVID-19; or (3) has died due to COVID-19. The following notices must be provided within one business day of the employer becoming aware of the potential exposure: (1) notice that the employee may have been exposed to COVID-19; (2) information regarding COVID-19-related benefits to which the employee may be entitled; and (3) information about the employer’s plan to implement and complete a disinfection and safety plan, per the guidelines of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The employer must communicate in a manner it normally uses to communicate with workers. The employer does not necessarily need to notify the entire company; employees in buildings, floors, or other locations where a qualified individual did not enter do not need to be notified. The new law requires employers to maintain notification records for at least three years, and includes a civil penalty for violations of the notification requirements.
In addition, the bill requires employers to report specific information to their local health department within 48 hours of becoming aware that the number of workplace cases meets the definition of a COVID-19 outbreak. The employer must continue to give notice to the local health department of any subsequent laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases at the worksite. Health facilities, as defined by the law, are exempt from this reporting requirement.
This new law also authorizes CalOSHA to prohibit the performance of an operation or process, or entry into a place of employment, when, in its opinion, workers are at risk of COVID-19 infection threatening an imminent hazard. The prohibition must be limited to the immediate area where threat of immediate death or serious physical harm exists. In such an event, CalOSHA must provide the employer with an imminent hazard notice which the employer must visibly post in the workplace. When issuing a serious violation related to COVID-19 hazards, the new law allows CalOSHA to act without first sending the employer a notice of intent to issue a serious citation and allowing the employer an opportunity to respond with a rebuttal and evidence for the division’s consideration, as normally required under non-COVID-19 circumstances.
Tips: Since this new law doesn’t take effect until January 1, 2021, you have some time to adjust your current COVID-19 practices and prepare for the new employee notification requirements. Review your COVID-19 exposure control plans and incorporate these new requirements into those plans. If you have questions about the employee notice requirements, contact your Vigilant Law Group employment attorney. For questions about CalOSHA’s new authority to shutdown worksites under this law, contact your Vigilant safety professional.