Calif. bill requires employers to notify every employee of potential workplace COVID-19 exposures

In response to the Coronavirus Pandemic, the California Legislature has passed Assembly Bill (“AB”) 685, requiring employers to notify every employee of potential COVID-19 exposure at the workplace. Governor Newsom signed AB 685 into law and it will go into effect on January 1, 2021. AB 685 will bring the following changes to employers in California:

AB 685 expands Cal/OSHA’s authority to issue Stop Work Orders for workplaces that pose risk of an “imminent hazard” in relation to COVID-19. This “imminent hazard” is a hazard that threatens immediate and serious physical harm. This allows Cal/OSHA to prohibit entry into a section of a business or place of employment where there is an imminent risk of COVID-19 exposure and requires the immediate area where the imminent hazard exists to be prohibited. Violation of this law order is considered a criminal offense.AB 685 establishes a comprehensive notice procedure that employers must follow, within one (1) business day, when they receive notice of potential exposure to COVID-19.

  1. Provide written notice in a manner typically used to communicate to all employees, employers of subcontracted employees, and employee-representatives (e.g., unions), where they may have been exposed to the virus. Employers may send a letter, email, or text message, but only if employees anticipate receiving communication from the employer in this manner. The notification must be in writing and a phone call will not satisfy this requirement. Also, written communication should be in English, and the language understood by the majority of the employees;
  2. Provide written notice to all employees and employee representatives regarding COVID-19 related benefits that employees may receive, including paid sick leave, workers’ compensation, and anti-retaliation protections;
  3. Notify all employees regarding the Company’s disinfection protocols and safety plan to eliminate any further exposures;
  4. Notify California’s Department of Public Health if there are sufficient COVID-19 positive cases that meet the definition of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Normally, when Cal/OSHA intends to issue a serious citation, they give an employer some notice of the imminent citation to allow the employer to defend itself before the issuance of the formal citation. AB 685 disperses with the employer’s opportunity to defend itself before the formal issuance of a COVID-19 related-serious citation. Therefore, if Cal/OSHA issues a serious citation, employers should closely monitor the statute of limitations to respond to the citation in a timely manner. Employers should also contact counsel to evaluate the citation since penalties can be shocking.

Employers should have a COVID-19 preparedness plan. Employers should develop a plan NOW on how to comply with AB 685—January 1st is looming near.