New revisions to Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), effective January 14, 2022, include updates to some definitions and changes to return to work after close contact. Cal/OSHA initially adopted the five COVID-19 regulations as a temporary standard in November 2020, revised them in June 2021, and updated them again in December 2021. They will expire April 14, 2022. The regulations are designed to help you protect your employees from exposure to COVID-19. They apply to every California business, except for:

  • Places of employment with one employee who does not have contact with other persons
  • Employees working from home
  • Employers covered by Title 8, Section 5199 of the California Code of Regulations (primarily health care providers, correctional facilities, drug treatment programs and homeless shelters)
  • Employees teleworking from a location of the employee’s choice that is not under control of the employer

Requirements for California employers

  • Create a written COVID-19 Prevention Program (CPP) and implement its protective measures, including improving ventilation, training employees on COVID-19 precautions, and providing face coverings
  • Provide COVID-19 testing at no cost and during paid time to employees after a workplace COVID-19 exposure and to any unvaccinated employee with symptoms
  • Maintain wages and benefits for employees who cannot work due to a COVID-19 exposure or illness from the workplace
  • Follow special requirements if providing housing or transportation to employees

The COVID-19 Prevention Program

Employers must develop a written COVID-19 Prevention Program (CPP) explaining their plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. It must include a workplace assessment to identify exposure hazards, controls to reduce exposure risk, and information and training for employees. The CPP must also address notification following a COVID-19 case in the workplace, exclusion of employees who have had close contact or are a COVID-19 case, and procedures for employees returning to work after isolation or quarantine.

Don’t have a written CPP yet? You should create one right away. Use our guide to build your COVID-19 Prevention Program. If you are using an older version of our CPP template, we recommend you update to the latest version that covers all the requirements of Cal/OSHA’s ETS revision. 

Workplace assessment and controls

Employers must first closely review the workplace to identify how employees may become infected. Areas or operations where people are close together for extended periods should be the focus. The Cal/OSHA regulation requires employers to:

  • Have a symptom screening process,
  • Maximize ventilation with outdoor air, and
  • Improve filtration efficiency of existing ventilation systems.

Employers should also consider telework options, staggering start times and breaks, and adding space between workstations to minimize potential close contacts (six feet from a COVID-19 case for a total of 15 minutes in a 24-hour period). Review workplace hazards and controls regularly and as part of the procedure to investigate COVID-19 cases in the workplace.

Communication and training

Free flow of information is critical to containing virus spread and protecting employees at increased risk of severe disease.

  • Employees should report COVID-19 symptoms, close contacts, or workplace hazards promptly.
  • Employees with conditions that may put them at higher risk for severe disease should be able to request accommodations without fear of retaliation.
  • Employers must provide information on access to testing and inform employees about the COVID-19 hazards and prevention policies in the workplace.
  • Employers should ensure employees understand how COVID-19 spreads, how to properly use personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings, and the importance of staying home and testing for COVID-19 if symptoms develop.  

Face coverings

The definition of face coverings now includes the following clarifications:

Light cannot pass through cloth face coverings, and gaiters must be two layers of fabric or folded to make two layers. Face coverings must be secured to the head with ties, ear loops, or elastic bands that go behind the head and fit snugly over the nose, mouth, and chin with no large gaps.

Employers must provide face coverings and require employees who are not fully vaccinated to wear them indoors and in vehicles. Additionally, employers must require face coverings under the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) facemask orders and according to CDPH isolation/quarantine guidance. A NIOSH approved respirator effective at protecting against particulate matter, such as an N95 filtering facepiece respirator, must be provided to an unvaccinated employee working indoors or in vehicles with more than one person upon request, and to all employees in an exposed group during an outbreak. The best face coverings are those that fit well and provide good filtration.

COVID-19 testing

Employers must provide COVID-19 testing to unvaccinated employees if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, and to employees who had close contact in the workplace to a COVID-19 case except for recently-recovered COVID-19 cases. Testing must be available during paid working hours and free of charge to the employee.

Additional testing requirements apply during workplace outbreaks and when employees return to work prior to completing the full isolation or quarantine period. The State of California has information on how to find local testing and how to use an at-home test kit.

Return to work criteria

By executive order issued in December 2020, California Department of Public Health (CDPH) updates on isolation and quarantine supersede the return to work requirements in the ETS. Per the CDPH guidelines, both isolation and quarantine can end after 5 days if a test collected on Day 5 is negative and the employee wears a well-fitting mask around others for a total of 10 days. Isolation and quarantine guidance is subject to change as we learn more about emerging variants.

Exclusion and wage continuation

Employers must send home employees with COVID-19 or who were exposed to COVID-19 on the job, and pay them while they cannot work. Employers are not required to maintain wages if employees receive disability payments or workers’ compensation. This rule is limited to workplace exposures. Employers must prove that the exposure was not work-related if they are not paying the employees to stay home.

Employees may use paid leave or may qualify for benefits such as State Disability Insurance (SDI) while they are unable to work due to COVID-19 illness or exposure. The State of California’s COVID-19 Worker Benefit and Leave Navigator is a helpful tool for identifying alternatives to paid leave.

Notifications

Employers must notify all employees, contractors, and other employers who were on the premises at the same worksite within one day when there is a COVID-19 case. Employers must do contact tracing and identify close contacts; those close contacts must receive additional information on testing and benefits available to them.

Outbreaks

The ETS requires extra steps to contain outbreaks. During an outbreak, regular testing must be provided to employees in an exposed group, and face coverings or respirators effective at protecting against particulates (N95 masks) must be worn indoors and outdoors when within six feet of another person. The outbreak must be investigated to identify any new COVID-19 hazards, and additional preventative measures, such as upgrading HVAC filters to minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) 13 or better, or using portable high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration units, may be necessary.