Who Makes the Rules?
Cal/OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standards (the “ETS”) are the regulations governing COVID-19 response and prevention in most California workplaces. Several versions of these emergency standards have been in effect since November 30, 2020. A revised and readopted ETS will take effect on January 14, 2022 and remain in effect until April 14, 2022.
The January 14, 2022 ETS is already out of date, however. A few weeks ago, Governor Newsom issued an executive order that essential provides that quarantine and isolation requirements by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) or local jurisdictions supersede the ETS if they are shorter. The CDPH recently published guidelines which provide for shorter quarantine and isolation periods than those contained in the ETS, and a test-based return to work strategy. Many local counties have already adopted the CDPH guidelines and we expect more to follow. This means that for most employers, the CDPH guidelines will control how and when their employees may return to work.
However, the other, additional provisions of the ETS still apply, including testing and employee notification requirements. We expect Cal/OSHA to issue further guidance in the coming weeks regarding best practices for implementing the readopted ETS.
We know the constant stream of changing information can be overwhelming. Below is a quick guide to current isolation, quarantine, and return to work requirements.
Employees who test positive for COVID-19 must isolate and may return to work if:
- At least 5 days have passed since their positive test; and
- They do not have a fever; and
- They receive a negative test on day 5 or later and their symptoms are resolving.
Employees returning to work after 5 days of isolation must continue to wear a well-fitting mask indoors and around others for 10 total days.
If the employee cannot obtain a negative test, they must continue to isolate for a total of 10 days.
Employees who have been exposed to COVID-19 and are unvaccinated must quarantine and may return to work when:
- At least 5 days have passed since the date of exposure; and
- They receive a negative test on day 5 or later; and
- They continue to be asymptomatic.
Employees returning to work after 5 days of quarantine must continue to wear a well-fitting mask indoors and around others for 10 total days.
If the employee cannot obtain a negative test, they must continue to quarantine for a total of 10 days.
Employees who have been exposed and are fully vaccinated and booster eligible but have not yet received their booster dose do not need to quarantine as long as they remain asymptomatic. However, these individuals must wear a well-fitting mask indoors and around others for 10 days, and obtain a negative COVID-19 test 3-5 days after the last date of exposure.
Employees who have been exposed and are fully vaccinated and boosted, or not yet booster eligible and are asymptomatic do not need to quarantine. However, these individuals must wear a well-fitting mask around others for 10 days, maintain six feet of social distancing and take a COVID-19 test 5 days after the date of exposure.
If, either of the two above groups test positive, the employee must follow the isolation instructions for employees who test positive for COVID-19.
Who is Booster-Eligible?
The California Department of Public Health has published a chart to help individuals determine whether or not they are eligible for a booster dose. That guidance can be found here.
Because booster status now impacts when an exposed employee returns to work, employers should seek to determine the booster status of each of its employees. As with vaccination status, booster information must be maintained confidentially.
What Kind of Test?
The type of test an employer may provide has been broadened to include all forms of viral and antigen tests, including home and over-the-counter tests. However, a test cannot be self-administered and self-read unless observed by the employer or an authorized telehealth provider. This means that in order for an employee to return to work under the rules outlined above, the employee cannot administer and read the results of their own test by themselves.
Other Things to Keep in Mind
The ETS govern an employer’s requirements for handling COVID-19 in the workplace. These guidelines place various requirements on employers, including an obligation to provide notice to employees regarding exposures and to inform your employees of COVID-19 related benefits that may apply to them. Additionally, as of January 14th, employers must now make testing available to all employees who are determined to be a close contact to a COVID-19 case in the workplace, free of cost.
The full emergency temporary standards can be found here.
The specific requirements applicable to each employer will vary depending on the type of workplace and its ability to accommodate remote work. Please note that the isolation and quarantine requirements discussed in this post do not apply to healthcare employers.
If you are not sure if you are complying with all of the necessary requirements, please reach out to us for further guidance. We are here to help employers navigate these complex and challenging times.