Cal/OSHA Reverses Rules, Most Mandates Lifted
Last updated 6/30/2021 at 1:14pm
A controversial mask regulation for the workplace in California was withdrawn, as state workplace regulators considered a rule that aligned closer to Governor Gavin Newsom’s promise of fully reopening, June 15.
This meant the elimination of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy color-coded system made up of four tiers that was implemented back in August of last year.
After more than a year, the state fully reopened with no restrictions, social distancing or capacity limits, and looser mask mandates, especially for those who are fully vaccinated. According to the CDC, you are considered fully vaccinated two weeks or more after your second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two weeks after your single-dose of the J&J vaccine. However, businesses are still able to implement rules of mask wearing and require proof of vaccination. Dr. Mark Ghaly, state’s Health and Human Services Secretary, said the state will largely align with the CDC’s guidelines on mask-wearing.
The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board’s revised rule was initially rejected, and would have allowed workers to forego masks only if every employee in a room is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. That contrasts with the state’s broader plan to do away with virtually all masking and social distancing requirements for vaccinated people in concert with the latest recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The board’s decision to withdraw that rule before it goes into effect allowed the board to consider changes at its June 17 meeting.
“After the confusion and lack of clarity on reopening guidelines at the Cal/OSHA hearing, the statewide business community must once again request the governor issue an Executive Order before June 15 to provide all employers with the consistency and certainty in guidelines,” Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, said in a statement. That, he said, “will be the catalyst for a full economic reopening and create a powerful incentive to get even more Californians vaccinated.”
The goal of the unanimous vote, is to change the workplace regulation, “so that it matches up with the CDC and the California Department of Public Health, so that we’re all on the same page. That’s what this is about, so we’re not out of step with everybody else,” board chairman David Thomas said.
The rules were expected to take effect on June 15, and were much stricter than state and federal guidelines.
The state safety board’s staff says conditions are different among workers, leading to their proposed rule that even vaccinated employees remain masked unless everyone else in their workspace is inoculated.
The reversal came after State Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón reiterated to board members at a scheduled special meeting that the state will end most masking rules for people who are vaccinated, while continuing to require face coverings for unvaccinated people in indoor public settings and businesses.
Exceptions where everyone must remain masked include public transit, indoor school classes, in health care and correctional facilities, and in places like homeless shelters and cooling centers. Individual businesses are also free to require everyone to remain masked under the general rules.
Helen Cleary, director of the Phylmar Regulatory Roundtable, a coalition of large businesses with major California operations, was among numerous business representatives urging the board to conform its rule with public health requirements.
“Employers cannot plan with this high level of uncertainty,” she said. “We are disappointed and frustrated with the confusion, the process, the substance and the lack of leadership.”
At the June 17 meeting, regulators decided to allow fully vaccinated workers to take off their masks in the workplace, conforming with California’s general state guidelines
The newly revised guidelines now align with the California Department of Public Health, which ended most mask rules for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Here are the masking guidelines for workplaces under the new rules:
- Vaccinated employees are not required to wear masks while indoors, except for the places where California still requires masks to be worn by all people
- Unvaccinated employees must still wear face masks in indoor settings
- Face masks are not required for vaccinated and unvaccinated workers while outdoors
- Employers will need to document who is vaccinated in their workplaces, but they are not required to retain copies of vaccination cards. Instead, they can allow employees to self-attest to full inoculation. Businesses can also choose to be more strict in regards to their mask policy. Cal OSHA regulators also approve face coverings like N95 masks to be given to unvaccinated workers at their request.
Vaccinated employees will no longer be required to miss work to quarantine if they come into contact with someone who contracted COVID-19.
The guidelines also lift prohibitions on sharing personal items or work equipment. Instead, regulators say employers should implement more cleaning protocols and evaluate their ventilation systems.
Employers will need to make COVID-19 testing available to unvaccinated employees when they have symptoms.
Governor Gavin Newsom said that he would sign an executive order that will allow the new rules to go into effect immediately, avoiding the usual 10-day administrative law review that would have pushed back the effective date to June 28.