Question:  I run a small business, and we are complying with the new state mask order.  Are there other COVID-19 workplace guidelines that are still in effect for 2022?

Answer: Yes.  Employers must continue to comply with the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards (the “COVID-19 ETS”).  On December 16, 2021, the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board revised the COVID-19 ETS for the second time. The revised COVID-19 ETS apply to most workers in California and take effect on January 14, 2022.  The most significant revisions include the following:

  • Face Coverings: The definition of a “face covering” is updated to include more detail on the different types of acceptable face coverings.  If an employee is exempt from wearing a face covering because of a medical condition and cannot wear an approved alternative, the employee must stay at least 6 feet apart from others and either be fully vaccinated or be tested for COVID-19 at least once per week.
  • Testing and Exclusion: Under the current rules, if a fully vaccinated employee has a “close contact” with an infected person at work, the employee does not need to quarantine unless the employee develops COVID-19 symptoms.  The revised ETS imposes additional requirements on fully vaccinated employees who are asymptomatic. Such employees can  remain at work after a “close contact,” but they must maintain 6 feet of distance from others and wear a face covering for 14 days after their last close contact.  Also, employers are now required to offer COVID-19 testing to “close contacts” regardless of vaccination status and regardless of whether the employee is symptomatic or not.  “Close contact” continues to be defined as “being within 6 feet of a COVID-19 case for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or greater in any 24-hour period within or overlapping with the high risk exposure period.”
  • Return to Work Criteria: The revised ETS expands the period of time before an employee can return to work after a “close contact” from 10 days to 14 days.  However, even under the revised ETS, employees can return sooner in some situations.  For example, an employee can return to work 7 days after the last close contact if the employee has a negative COVID-19 test that was taken at least 5 days after the close contact.  If the employee returns to work sooner than the 14-day quarantine period, the employee must maintain 6 feet of distance from others at work and wear a face covering for at least 14 days following the last date of close contact.

Some important requirements in the COVID-19 ETS remain unchanged.  Employers must continue to maintain an effective COVID-19 Prevention Program that includes identifying and evaluating employee exposures to COVID-19 health hazards, training employees on how to prevent hazards, and implementing procedures to correct unsafe conditions.  Also, employers must continue to properly notify certain employees of possible COVID-19 exposures within one business day.

In addition to the COVID-19 ETS, employers must continue to follow various federal and state public health orders on COVID-19.  The latest order from the California Department of Public Health requires the use of face coverings by all employees when indoors, from December 15, 2021 through January 15, 2022.  Also, there are still numerous federal and state vaccination mandates with which employers may need to comply.

Businesses should promptly review and update their written COVID-19 Prevention Plan to comply with the revised ETS and continue to monitor changing mandates related to COVID-19.  To view the revised ETS, visit: https://www.dir.ca.gov/OSHSB/documents/Dec162021-COVID-19-Prevention-Emergency-txtcourtesy-2nd-Readoption.pdf