What is Your Employer Required to do to Protect You from COVID?

Californians have the strongest protections from COVID at work in the country. At the same time, there’s lots of room for improvement. Put in place by Cal/OSHA and the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, these rules will be in place until the end of 2022.

So what are the main things California workers need to know?

  • There must be a COVID-19 Prevention Program at your workplace. It should be in writing and available. Employees are to be trained on COVID prevention.
  • You and/or your union (if you have one) can bring COVID-19 hazards in the workplace to your employer’s attention to be fixed. The employer needs to evaluate and address how COVID could spread in the workplace, and to stay up to speed on public health advice from the state.
  • When face coverings are required (which as of end-May they are not), the employer must provide them. Face coverings, improved ventilation, and some other measures in the rule depend on what the state Department of Public Health is recommending for the general public, rather than anything specific to workers.
  • If you or a colleague gets COVID on the job, you are to stay home (be “excluded”) from work. You must be paid and you retain your “earnings, wages, seniority, and all other employee rights and benefits” until you are well and can safely return. (this is called “exclusion pay.”) If your boss claims you weren’t infected at work, the burden is on them to demonstrate that.

If there is a positive COVID case at your place of work, your employer needs to investigate the circumstances and individuals who may be affected, notify them, and offer COVID testing. There are specific protections on shared housing and transportation for farmworkers.

Are you not seeing your employer not doing these things, or do they not care about you and your colleagues’ safety? You can file a complaint with Cal/OSHA. This can lead to an investigation and enforcement, including fixing the problem and levying fines.

The main rule is here if you want to read it yourself, and there’s lots of FAQs and more information here at Cal/OSHA’s page.

Things get more involved if there are three or more cases at your workplace in two weeks (an “outbreak”), or 20 cases in a month (a “major outbreak”) — including notice, investigation, testing and ventilation.

Please keep us posted on what you are seeing in your workplace. Because efforts to establish longer-term protections are ongoing — and being strongly opposed by business and industry.

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