New California State Law on COVID AB685

On September 17, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 685 (AB 685) into law which becomes effective on January 1, 2021. This bill amends current regulations and requires that employers comply with tougher COVID-19 reporting policies when it comes to employees, subcontractors and also local health authorities for “outbreak” tracking purposes.  AB 685 has added Section 6409.6 to the Labor Code which states if an employer receives notice of potential COVID-19 exposure at the workplace the employer has one business day to:

  • Provide written notice to all employees, subcontractors and exclusive employee representatives that were also at the worksite during the infectious period. Written notice can include email or text and must be sent in English and the language understood by the majority of the employees.
  • Provide all employees who may have been exposed and the exclusive employee representative with COVID-19-related benefits employees are entitled under applicable federal, state, or local laws, including (e.g. workers’ compensation, sick leave, etc.)
  • Notify all employees, subcontractors and exclusive employee representatives of the disinfection and safety plan that will be implemented moving forward.

In addition to other reporting requirements not listed, AB 685 provides Cal/OSHA with greater authority to issue Stop Work orders to workplaces which may present an “imminent hazard” pertaining to COVID-19 and also revises Cal/OSHA’s procedures for issuing serious violation citations pertaining to COVID-19.  You can see the full bill by clicking on this link Assembly Bill 685.

It has been reported that there have been some issues with the “emergency regulation” which would support AB 685.  DOSH has been directed by the Cal/OSHA Standards Board to have the regulation ready for voting at the November meeting, however, push back from California employer groups would like to see a draft released prior to finalizing and voting on the regulation.  Employers have concerns about the time frame and also what the emergency regulation could entail.  Employers are hopeful that a collaboration effort can be maintained with development of the regulations.

Speaking of violations, over the last few months Cal/OSHA has cited multiple employers with COVID-19 violations.  These employers are part of industries which are considered to have higher worker exposure risks and include the food processing and health care industries.  Cal/OSHA has made these industries (food processing, meatpacking, health care, agriculture and retail) a priority and have said they are the first of “many” citations that will be issued in the coming weeks and months.

Employers were cited for the following violations:

  • Not updating their health and safety plans to include COVID-19 hazards and protocols for protecting workers from the virus.
  • Not having workers physically distanced (at least six feet apart) or installing Plexiglas or other barriers between workers.
  • Not screening workers and/or visitors prior to entering facilities.
  • Failure to take proper actions when workers exhibited COVID-19 symptoms at the workplace.
  • Failure to comply with the Aerosol Transmissible Disease standard which requires respiratory protection in health care facilities when transporting suspected carriers of airborne infectious diseases (e.g. COVID-19).

As you probably know by now there are many State and Federal resources for employers pertaining to COVID-19.  With AB 685 going into effect on January 1, 2021 (assuming the supporting regulations are approved) there are likely to be more citations issued.  The Cohen Group is well versed on the subject and has been providing COVID-19 compliance services for our clients including; facility audits/site inspections, health and safety program updates/addendums and trainings.  Feel free to contact our office if you require assistance.