Question: What do I, as an employer, need to do in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak in the workplace?

Answer: The June 17, 2021 COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards issued by Cal/OSHA specify employers’ responsibilities in response to an outbreak of COVID-19 in the workplace.

A workplace outbreak occurs if three or more COVID-19 positive cases within an exposed group visited the workplace during their high-risk exposure period at any time during a 14-day period.  An “exposed group” generally includes all employees who were at the same work location, working area, or common area at work as the COVID-19 positive case during that individual’s “high-risk exposure period.”  The “high-risk exposure period” for a COVID-19 positive individual with symptoms is two days before developing symptoms until 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared, and 24 hours have passed with no fever, and symptoms have improved.  For non-symptomatic COVID-19 positive cases, the “high-risk exposure period” is two days before until 10 days after the date the individual took the COVID-19 test that returned positive.

When an employee who was physically present at the workplace tests positive for COVID-19, employers must, within 24 hours, provide all employees with information regarding the employer’s disinfection plan and exposed employees with information regarding available testing and other benefits such as paid sick leave.  Employers should also report the COVID-19 case to its workers’ compensation claims administrator.  If an outbreak occurs, an employer must notify the local health department within 48 hours.  The employer should be prepared to provide the names, job titles, and worksite of the employees who tested positive for COVID-19.  With few exceptions, employers must also make COVID-19 testing available to employees within the exposed group during paid work time at no cost to the employees. Such testing must be made immediately available to all employees in the exposed group , and again one week later. Thereafter, employers must continue to make COVID-19 testing available, at least once a week, until there are no new COVID-19 cases detected in the exposed group for a 14-day period, or as otherwise required by Cal-OSHA or the local health department.

Unless an exception applies, employers must require employees in the exposed group to wear face coverings whenever they are indoors or when they are outdoors and less than six feet from others.  Employers must notify employees in the exposed group of their right to request a respirator for voluntary use if they are not fully vaccinated. Employers must also decide whether to implement physical distancing of at least six feet, or use cleanable solid partitions if physical distancing is not possible, to reduce COVID-19 transmission.

Employers who experience workplace outbreaks must immediately investigate, review, and correct potential hazards in the workplace.  Employers must review their COVID-19 prevention policies and procedures and implement any needed changes to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.  This review must be updated every 30 days during an outbreak, in response to new information, new or previously unrecognized COVID-19 hazards, or when otherwise necessary.  Employers must implement changes that reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

More stringent requirements are imposed in a major COVID-19 outbreak, which generally involves 20 or more employee COVID-19 cases in the workplace during a 30-day period.  To view the Cal/OSHA updated standards regarding COVID-19 outbreaks and major outbreaks, visit