California’s AB 685 enhances employer notification requirements, allows Cal/OSHA to shut down entire worksites

Employers in California must notify all employees who were at a worksite of all potential exposures to COVID-19 and notify the local public health agency of outbreaks.

Posted October 21, 2020

Assembly Bill (AB) 685 places new notification requirements on California employers for workplace exposures to COVID-19. Employers must notify all employees who were at a worksite of all potential exposures to COVID-19. In addition, employers must notify the local public health agency of all outbreaks. An outbreak in a non-healthcare setting is defined as three or more laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 among employees who live in different households within a two-week period.

The notification requirements will be in effect from January 1, 2021, to January 1, 2023.

Under AB 685, employers must provide a written notice to all employees and contractors who were at the same worksite as a person who was infectious with COVID-19 or who was subject to a COVID-19-related quarantine order. The requirement applies as soon as the employer becomes aware of a potential exposure because someone at the worksite was infectious with COVID-19 or has been ordered by a public health official to isolate because of COVID-19. The written notice must be provided “immediately,” which means within one business day. The written notice must include information on the disinfection and safety plan the employer will implement according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance.

To report outbreaks to local health officials, employers must notify the local public health agency within 48 hours of becoming aware of the number of cases that meets the definition of an outbreak. The notification must include the names, phone number, occupation, and worksite of employees who may have COVID-19 or who are under a COVID-19 isolation order. Employers must also report the business address and NAICS industry code of the worksite where the infected or quarantined individuals work. In addition, the employer must continue to provide updates to the local health officials of any new laboratory-confirmed cases at the worksite.

AB 685 also allows Cal/OSHA to issue Orders Prohibiting Use (OPU) to shut down an entire worksite or specific worksite area that exposes employees to an imminent hazard related to COVID-19. An OPU means Cal/OSHA can prohibit entry into a workplace or prohibit the use of something in a place of employment that could pose an imminent hazard. An imminent hazard is any condition or practice that poses a hazard to employees that would reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical harm immediately, or before the hazard can be eliminated through normal agency enforcement procedures. Cal/OSHA can exercise its authority at any place of employment where risk of exposure to COVID-19 constitutes an imminent hazard, and would remove employees from the risk of harm until the employer can effectively address the hazard.

AB 685 means Cal/OSHA can now more quickly issue citations for serious violations related to COVID-19 without needing to send a pre-citation notice to the employer at least 15 days before issuing the citation. Before the new law, when Cal/OSHA decided to issue a citation for a serious violation, it first provided a form to the employer at least 15 days in advance.

This article was written by Rachel Krubsack of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

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