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Major Changes to COVID-19 Rules

In the past two days, there have been significant changes to two sets of COVID-19 rules: (1) Cal/OSHA regulations governing employers, and (2) the Los Angeles County Health Officer Order.

1.  Changes to Cal-OSHA rules

Since November 2020,  employers have been subject to Cal/OSHA regulations governing COVID-19, the Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS). The ETS imposed requirements for, among other matters, face coverings, exclusion after exposure, physical distancing, testing, notice, and exclusion pay.

Over the last six weeks, Cal/OSHA has proposed, and then withdrawn, numerous proposed changes to the ETS. For example, on May 7, 2021, Cal/OSHA proposed a revised ETS under which employees could remove face coverings, but only when everyone in the room was fully vaccinated. This proved controversial, and before Cal/OSHA’s Standards Board could hold a scheduled May 20, 2021, vote on the proposal, Cal/OSHA revised the ETS a second time. This revised ETS was approved by the Board on June 3, 2021. The Board then reversed itself, voting on June 9, 2021, to withdraw its approval. Cal/OSHA then proposed a third set of revisions.

Today, June 17, 2021, the Board voted to approve Cal-OSHA’s third revised ETS. Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order right after the decision providing for the revised ETS to go into effect immediately, without the normal 10-day period required for review by the Office of Administrative Law.

Some major changes in the revised ETS are as follows:

  • Masks: Fully vaccinated employees do not have to wear face masks indoors. Employees who are not fully vaccinated will still be required to wear face coverings while indoors or in vehicles, subject to certain exceptions (e.g., alone in a room, eating or drinking while maintaining physical distancing, while wearing a respirator, etc.). On request, employers shall provide respirators for voluntary use to all employees who are not fully vaccinated and who are working indoors or in vehicles with more than one person.
  • Distancing: Physical distancing requirements are eliminated.
  • Vaccination Documentation: Employers must gather and maintain information regarding employee vaccinations. Cal/OSHA has stated that it will provide additional clarification through updated FAQs on exactly what documentation employers must maintain.
  • Partitions: Employers are no longer required to maintain solid, cleanable partitions designed to reduce viral transmission, such as the now-familiar plastic barriers that separate customers and cashiers.
  • Exclusion: Fully vaccinated employees without symptoms generally will no longer need to be excluded from the workplace after exposure to COVID-19.
  • Exclusion Pay. Employees excluded from the workplace must be paid their regular rate of pay by the next regular pay day, and may bring a wage claim to recover such wages.
  • Testing: Employers must make COVID-19 testing available at no cost during paid time to employees with COVID-19 symptoms who are not fully vaccinated.

2.  Changes to Los Angeles County Health Officer Order

Employers in Los Angeles County, in addition to following state-wide rules such as the ETS, have to follow the order of the county’s Health Officer relating to COVID-19. This regularly updated order has set out detailed requirements for employers, along with various appendices to that order for specific business sectors, such as Appendix D, governing offices.

Two days ago, on June 15, 2021, a revised order was issued that largely abolished county-level requirements. The revised order removes many previously required safety modifications such as the local capacity limits on businesses and local physical distancing requirements. Businesses are no longer required to prepare and post protocols, or in most instances to submit plans or notifications of events to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Also, except for youth, healthcare, and other high-risk congregate settings, prior sector-specific guidance under local health protocols has been eliminated.


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