California Enacts New Laws, Including Bill Requiring Employers to Notify Employees of COVID-19 Cases

COVID-19 Update

Under a law signed by Governor Newsom on Thursday, September 17, 2020, California requires employers to notify employees of potential exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. The law also gives the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) expanded authority to enforce COVID-19-related measures. Both components of the law are set to expire on January 1, 2023. The Governor also signed two other bills into law, SB 1383 (expanding leave rights for workers of employers with five or more employees) and SB 1159 (expanding workers’ compensation coverage), as summarized below.

Notification Requirements

Under the new law, Assembly Bill (AB) 685, employers are required to provide employees with written notification within one business day of receiving notice of “potential exposure” due to a positive COVID-19 test. Potential exposure means all employees and the employers of subcontracted employees “who were on the premises at the same worksite” as the infected individual.

The law also requires an employer with a positive case on its premises to notify all employees and subcontractors’ employees of the disinfection and safety plan that the employer plans to implement, in compliance with federal CDC guidelines.

Finally, the law requires that an employer with an “outbreak,” defined as three or more cases within a 14-day period, to report that outbreak to the local health department in the company’s jurisdiction within 48 hours. This has been required under the state’s guidance and is now state law.

Records of notifications must be kept for three years, and the law includes civil penalties for violations.

Cal/OSHA’s Expanded Authority

AB 685 extends new authority to Cal/OSHA to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. These new powers include the ability to shut down a workplace that it determines presents a severe risk of COVID-19 infection by finding that a risk of COVID-19 infection constitutes an “imminent hazard” to employees. Shutdowns can include prohibiting entry, suspending operations or other measures. Cal/OSHA also has new enforcement authority to issue citations for serious COVID-19-related violations without typical pre-citation requirements. Under the law, Cal/OSHA is not required to provide a notice of the alleged violation descriptions (AVDs) and may immediately issue citations where it finds a “serious violation” relating to COVID-19.

Other Pending Employment Legislation Signed by the Governor

In our prior newsletter, available here, we summarized the other employment-related legislation that was awaiting the Governor’s signature. On September 17, the Governor signed two of those bills into law:

  • SB 1383 – extending job-protected leave to employees who work for employers of five or more employees in California, from the prior threshold of 50 employees.
  • SB 1159 – expanding access to workers’ compensation by creating a rebuttable presumption for frontline workers—healthcare workers, firefighters and peace officers—that a COVID-19 infection is work related. The new law also establishes a rebuttable presumption when there is a workplace outbreak within a 14-day period.
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