While California inches closer to the state’s June 15 target to lift restrictions and reopen the economy, California employers will have to wait for guidance from CalOSHA on the standards that will govern COVID-19 workplace safety. For now, CalOSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standards released in November 2020 will remain in place and employers will need to continue to be mindful of these more restrictive guidelines, despite loosening of other state restrictions.
Back in April, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that the state of California would reopen its economy on June 15, 2021, if certain targets were met. In theory, this means that on June 15, California’s 15-months of public health restrictions, mandates, bans and color-coded tiers to stem the COVID-19 pandemic will come to an end. But, there are a number of asterisks that come along with this lifting of restrictions and things won’t quite be “business as usual”. For California employers, one of those asterisks is significant – even after June 15, California employers will still have to be mindful of CalOSHA’s COVID-19 emergency temporary standard, which remains unsettled and is currently more stringent than the State’s “business as usual” guidance.
Since last November, CalOSHA has imposed certain requirements on employers in California to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Those included mask mandates and social distancing, among many other requirements. In light of recent revised CDC Guidance and the State of California’s reopening plan, the CalOSHA Standards Board asked staff to propose revisions to the state’s emergency temporary standard for employers. The proposed revisions were issued on June 3, 2021, but faced a number of objections from business and labor groups. In light of this, on June 9, 2021, the CalOSHA Standards Board held a special meeting to discuss the ETS and voted to withdraw the proposed revised guidance.
The upshot is that the original November 2020 ETS remains in place. In the meantime, CalOSHA staff have been tasked with developing another revised version of the ETS. The proposed revisions are expected to be announced in time for the Board to consider them at its meeting on June 17, 2021. If adopted on June 17, the revised ETS guidance would go into effect by June 28.
In light of the current state of CalOSHA guidance, however, California employers will face significant challenges harmonizing the lifting of state restrictions with the November 2020 ETS that remains in place. Until the ETS is revised, California employers will need to be mindful of continuing compliance with the ETS while trying to return to normal operations.