Question: My business has an Injury and Illness Prevention Plan (“IIPP”) to comply with the Cal/OSHA workplace safety rules. A friend told me that I need to make a new IIPP because of COVID-19. Is this true?

Answer: Yes. On November 19, 2020, Cal/OSHA approved a comprehensive and complex set of “COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards” to address issues related to COVID-19 in the workplace. The emergency standards became effective on November 30, 2020, with a current expiration date of October 2, 2021. Though some businesses in the healthcare industry are exempt and covered under a separate Cal OSHA Aerosol Transmissible Diseases standard, nearly all other California employers are now subject to the new emergency standards.

To comply with the emergency standards, an employer must develop a written COVID-19 Prevention Program, which must implement the following:

  • Communication to employees about the employer’s COVID-19 prevention procedures
  • Identification, evaluation, and correction of COVID-19 hazards
  • Physical distancing of at least six feet unless it is not possible
  • Use of face coverings
  • Use of engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment as required to reduce transmission risk
  • Procedures to investigate and respond to COVID-19 cases in the workplace
  • Provide COVID-19 training to employees
  • Provide testing to employees who are exposed to a COVID-19 case, and implement regular workplace testing for employees in the event of multiple infections or a major outbreak
  • Exclusion of COVID-19 cases and exposed employees from the workplace until they are no longer an infection risk
  • Maintain records of COVID-19 cases and report serious illnesses and multiple cases to Cal/OSHA and the local health department, as required

The COVID-19 Prevention Program, which contains requirements that are similar to the Cal/OSHA IIPP, may be integrated into the employer’s normal IIPP or maintained in a separate document.

The emergency standards contain a new employer-sponsored paid sick leave mandate requiring an employer to provide an employee with paid leave if the employee is sent home because the employee was exposed to COVID-19 at work. An employer can satisfy this paid leave requirement by providing the employee with existing paid sick leave benefits such as Families First Coronavirus Response Act and Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act sick leave, or other existing paid time off provided by the employer. The employer may also consider benefit payments from public sources (e.g., unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation benefits). However, if these sources are insufficient to maintain the employee’s full compensation during the quarantine period, the employer must make up the difference with additional paid time off.

Also, employers must immediately exclude from the workplace COVID-19-positive employees and employees who were exposed to COVID-19. An employee was “exposed” to COVID-19 if the employee was within 6 feet of a COVID-19 case for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period during the COVID-19 case’s high-risk exposure period. The high-risk exposure period for a COVID-19 case begins 48 hours (2 days) before the person developed COVID-19 symptoms, or if the person never developed symptoms, then 48 hours before the person took the first COVID-19 test that came back positive.

The emergency standards contain detailed rules for determining when such employees may return to work and prohibit employers from requiring an employee to obtain a negative COVID-19 test result before returning to work.

Though it is difficult to keep up with all of the new COVID-19 workplace laws, implementing a written COVID-19 Prevention Program is a crucial first step to mitigating COVID-19 risks at the workplace.