With vaccination numbers rising, COVID-19 cases dropping, and a generally better understanding of how the virus is transmitted, Cal/OSHA has changed their COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS). The original emergency standards went into effect in November 2020 and established requirements for employers to control the spread of the virus in the workplace, including:

  • Creating a written COVID-19 Prevention Program (CPP)
  • Providing COVID-19 testing at no cost to employees after a COVID-19 exposure at work
  • Paying wages to employees who cannot work due to a COVID-19 exposure at work
  • Reporting COVID-19 cases to the local health department

Top changes you need to know about

On June 17, 2021, Cal/OSHA adopted revisions to the ETS that include clarifications in the wording, easing of some requirements, and removing others entirely – like face coverings for vaccinated employees. Here are the major changes you should know about, which became effective immediately after an executive order from Governor Newsom.

Fully vaccinated employees

  • Only required to wear a face covering when identified as part of an exposed group during an outbreak.
  • Do not need to be offered testing following close contact unless they develop symptoms or are identified as part of an exposed group during a major outbreak.  
  • Do not need to be excluded from the workplace if they have close contact with a case as long as they remain symptom-free.
  • Unvaccinated employees still must wear a mask when indoors.

Voluntary use of respirators

  • Respirators for voluntary use (typically N95 masks) must be provided upon request for employees who are not fully vaccinated working indoors, in vehicles, and identified as part of an exposed group during an outbreak.
  • Whenever an employer provides respirators for voluntary use, the employer shall encourage their use and shall ensure that employees are provided with a respirator of the correct size.

Changes to physical distancing requirements

  • No longer required except during major outbreaks.
  • Solid, cleanable partitions are no longer required except during outbreak situations.

Update to definition of face covering

  • Now includes respirators (such as N95 or half-masks) worn voluntarily and specifies that face coverings must be made of at least two layers of material.
  • Specifically excludes scarfs, ski masks, balaclavas, bandanas, turtlenecks, collars, or single layers of fabric.

Testing

  • Unvaccinated employees exposed to a COVID-19 case or with COVID-19 symptoms are offered COVID-19 testing at no cost and during paid time.
  • Vaccinated employees are only offered COVID-19 testing if they were exposed to a COVID-19 case and develop symptoms.
  • See additional information below on testing requirements that apply to exposed groups during multiple infection or outbreaks in the workplace.

Cleaning and disinfection

  • Disinfection is only required if areas, materials, equipment, etc. will be accessed by another employee within 24 hours of a COVID-19 case. Otherwise, frequently touched surfaces should be regularly cleaned.

New training topics

  • For voluntary respirator users - how to properly wear it, how to perform a user seal check, and how facial hair will interfere with the respirator seal and reduce the level of protection.
  • Inform all employees that COVID-19 is an airborne disease, meaning infectious particles can remain suspended in the air for hours and after the infected person has left the area.
  • The fact that viral particles can travel more than 6 feet, especially indoors, so physical distancing, face coverings, increased ventilation, and respiratory protection can decrease the spread of COVID-19, but are most effective when used in combination.
  • Conditions that require the use of face coverings at the workplace, the recommendation for people who are not fully vaccinated to wear a face covering if outdoors when 6 feet of distance between people can’t be maintained, and how to request face coverings at the workplace.
  • Inform employees that respirators protect the wearer, while face coverings protect others by stopping the spread of infectious particles.
  • Include information on the importance and effectiveness of being vaccinated, the employer’s COVID-19 policies, and how to access COVID-19 testing and vaccination.

Changes to sections on multiple COVID-19 infections, COVID-19 outbreaks, and major outbreaks

  • Applies to an exposed group of employees that meet the infection count criteria, rather than an entire workplace.
  • COVID-19 testing not required for fully vaccinated employees or those that recovered from COVID-19 in past 90 days, provided they are symptom-free during multiple infections and outbreaks. Testing must be provided for all employees of the exposed group during a major outbreak.
  • Requires MERV 13 or higher efficiency filters if compatible with the ventilation system and evaluation of the use of portable HEPA air cleaners.
  • Physical distancing must be evaluated to determine whether it should be implemented during multiple COVID-19 infections and outbreaks.
  • Physical distancing (or as far as possible if 6 feet is not feasible) is required during a major outbreak unless employees are required to wear respirators.
  • Requires cleanable, solid partitions at stationary work stations where physical distancing is not maintained at all times during a major outbreak.

Updates to section on employer-provided housing

  • Requirements do not apply to housing for fully vaccinated employees, housing exclusively for COVID-19 cases, housing units with one resident, or housing for employees covered by the Aerosol Transmissible Disease Standard.
  • Requires employees be assigned to groups, and that those groups remain separate during work and transportation.
  • Physical distancing is no longer required.
  • Requires portable or mounted HEPA filtration units in sleeping areas with two or more employees who are not fully vaccinated if MERV 13 or higher efficiency filter is not in use.
  • Fully vaccinated employees, or those that have recovered from COVID-19 in the last 90 days, do not need to be quarantined following close contact as long as they remain symptom-free.

Updates to section on employer-provided transportation

  • Does not apply to a driver alone in a vehicle, in public transportation, when all employees in a vehicle are fully vaccinated, or when employees are covered by the Aerosol Transmissible Disease Standard.
  • Requires employees be assigned to groups, and that different groups remain separate during work, transportation, and in employer-provided housing.
  • Physical distancing is no longer required.
  • Requires employees who are not fully vaccinated to be provided with a face covering which must be worn on the vehicle and while waiting for transportation
  • Respirators for voluntary use will be provided upon request to employees in vehicles who are not fully vaccinated.

These are some of the most notable changes to the ETS that are effective June 17, 2021. More information is available on our Build Your COVID-19 Prevention Program page, including a revised CPP or an addendum for employers who have already created their CPP using our original template. In addition, employers should review the full ETS to see all of the requirements. Cal/OSHA has more information on its website, including a list of FAQs to help you.