Here’s what’s changed as California’s revised COVID workplace rules come into force

By GRACE GEDYE | CalMatters

Today, the number of cases of COVID-19 in California has increased to theirs highest level yet – more than six times the peak of the delta variant wave – updated workplace rules step in to better help protect workers vaccinated against COVID-19.

The revised rules come from the California Division of Safety and Health – also known as Cal / OSHA – which regulates health and safety at California workplaces.

Changes include:

Test: If there is an outbreak at work, employers must make FDA-approved COVID tests available to exposed employees at no cost during paid time – and now this also applies to vaccinated, asymptomatic workers who were exposed.

Tests can no longer be self-administered and read by yourself. In other words, workers cannot take a test at home alone. Tests that are processed by a laboratory or observed by a physician under a telecommunications health agreement, or administered and observed by physicians or an employer, are still in order.

Who is sent home after exposure: If a fully vaccinated person previously had close contact with a COVID-positive but did not develop symptoms, they did not need to be sent home from work. Now, vaccinated asymptomatic individuals must be sent home from work unless they wear a mask and keep 6 feet away from others for two weeks.

Updating what counts as a mask: If workers choose to wear a fabric mask over a surgical or medical mask, the new rules specify that it must be thick enough and tightly woven to prevent light from passing through it when held up against a light source.

The rules also require employers to ensure workers wear masks as required by California’s public health department. December 15, a new state-wide mask mandate which includes jobs entered into force and is scheduled to remain in place until February 15th. Workers must wear masks indoors, but if a worker is alone in a room with a closed door, or if the workplace is a one-man operation, masks are not necessary.

Right now, employers are not required to offer workers additional sick leave for COVID. In March, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law requiring employers with 25 or more employees to offer up to 80 hours of additional paid leave for COVID. But that law expired in September, to leave some workers without the opportunity to take days off to recover from the virus or in quarantine if they were exposed. Federal guidelines recommend that anyone who tests positive for the virus be quarantined for five days. But without additional COVID sick leave, California workers are legally entitled to only three days of paid sick leave annually.

Some lawmakers are pushing to bring additional back COVID sick report in 2022, and the governor said working on sick leave was a “top priority” for him when he rolled out his budget proposal in early January.

The company is pushing back on California’s COVID rules

Business and industry advocates protested the new rules at a public meeting in mid-December. Melissa Patack, vice president of state affairs for the Motion Picture Association, said the new rules requiring asymptomatic, vaccinated workers exposed to keeping 6 feet away would be challenging for her industry.

“Those who work closely with actors, such as those who style hair, those who put on makeup … can not keep six feet away from the actor when performing their work,” she said.

Robert Moutrie, a political spokesman for the California Chamber of Commerce, pointed out that the changes mean employers are on the hook to deliver even more tests to employees, and test is in short supply.

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