For an entire year and three months, Californians have looked forward to the day when the draconian governmental measures prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic would be lifted, and they could get back to some level of normalcy. That day is officially on the horizon.
Even though Governor Gavin Newsom is not yet lifting his State of Emergency Order, California plans to “fully” reopen for business on June 15, 2021. Californians will continue to follow the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, but the state plans to lift public mask mandates and certain business restrictions that have been in place since March of 2020. As discussed below, one potential wrinkle in the reopening plan comes from Cal/OSHA, which regulates workplace health and safety.
Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standard Extended in its Original Form
On June 9, 2021, Cal/OSHA Standards Board voted to withdraw the controversial revisions to the COVID-19 ETS that it had approved on June 3rd, and employment advocates breathed a small sigh of relief. The revisions were widely panned as unnecessary in light of CDC guidance, and unworkable in practice.
According to its press release, “Cal/OSHA is reviewing the new mask guidance from CDC and will bring any recommended revisions to the Board. In the meantime, the protections adopted in November of 2020 will remain in effect.” The soonest the Board is expected to receive new revisions is at its June 17th meeting, two days after the state is expected to fully reopen. For a detailed review of the original Emergency Temporary Standard that came into effect on November 20, 2020, see “The Top 5 Things Employers Need to Know About the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS)” by clicking the link at the end of this blog post.
Reopening Your Workplace
What does this mean for California workplaces? In a nutshell, until the Cal/OSHA ETS is amended or withdrawn, the best approach is probably to steady the course. Most employees will still be required to wear face coverings and observe social distancing at work, even though clients and customers will not. And most employers must still comply with the strict prevention, exclusion, paid leave, notice, testing, and return to work requirements of the ETS, which apply regardless of vaccination status. The new Labor Code section 6409.6, which requires employers to notify employees they suspect to have been exposed to COVID-19 within one business day of learning about the potential exposure, also remains in effect until January 1, 2023.
Proactive employers are also reviewing and updating their COVID-19 Prevention Program, training their supervisors and employees, and inquiring into the vaccination status of their workforce so they can act quickly in response to revised rules. We encourage you to contact experienced employment counsel if you have questions about your particular situation.
For additional topics relevant to reopening, including mandating vaccines, options for employees who refuse to return to work, and navigating COVID-related leave of absence laws, visit the Frequently Asked Questions page.
LOOKING AHEAD: Important Deadlines for California Employers this Summer
June 30th: Employers with 50 or more employees, who do not offer an employer-sponsored retirement plan, must register for CalSavers, the state-administered retirement plan. In 2022, California employers with 5 or more employees will have to register for CalSavers by June 30, 2022, if they do not offer their employees such a plan.
July 1st: Local minimum wage increases go into effect across California. In the southland, the following municipalities will see their minimum wage increase to $15 per hour for all employees in Los Angeles City and Los Angeles County (unincorporated areas), Malibu, Pasadena, and Santa Monica.
July 19th: Employers with 100 or more employees and certain federal contractors with 50 or more employees must submit their 2020 and 2021 EEO-1 Component 1 Data by July 19th. Covered employers must provide “demographic workforce data, including data by race/ethnicity, sex and job categories.”
We encourage employers seeking additional information or assistance to contact us for a free consultation.