As we continue navigating COVID-19 and safety in the workplace, we want to be sure you are aware of California Assembly Bill 685. This legislation, which takes effect on January 1, 2021, strengthens CAL/OSHA enforcement of infection prevention controls and requires timely notifications regarding any COVID-19 cases in the workplace.
California employers are already required to establish and maintain controls to limit employee exposure to COVID-19. Assembly Bill 685 (AB 685) gives Cal/OSHA the authority to shut down parts of a business or the entire operation if it determines an imminent hazard exists at that workplace due to COVID-19 exposure. In addition, unlike a typical enforcement action, advance notice and a waiting period are not required.
Most notably, the regulation also requires timely (one day) notifications to employees and union representatives who may have been exposed. This notification must include information on COVID-19 related benefits that may be available to an exposed employee as well as the employer’s plan for cleaning, disinfection, and safety to help prevent future exposure. Specific notification to employers of subcontractors who were at the worksite at the time of the potential exposure, is required within the same one-day time period.
In addition, there are certain “outbreak” notification requirements to the local Health Department. It should be noted that the statute uses some specific definitions that govern when notice must be provided. You should review them carefully when determining when to notify employees.
Each industry faces unique challenges in establishing adequate controls. To help employers with these challenges, please refer to the following guidance and other helpful resources:
Of course, the best way to avoid having to provide notice of COVID-19 exposure is to have good protocols in place to prevent workplace exposures in the first place. However, even with the best plans in place, there are no guarantees that workplace exposures can be completely eliminated in light of community spread of COVID-19. Because this new law has very detailed written notice requirements subject to enforcement, employers should work with legal counsel now to establish communication and documentation protocols ahead of the January 1, 2021 effective date.
For general questions regarding employer obligations or Cal/OSHA compliance, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our office.