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COVID-19 Infection Prevention Requirements (AB 685)

Assembly Bill 685 (“AB 685) went into effect on January 1, 2021 and expires on January 1, 2023. The law enhances Cal/OSHA’s enforcement of COVID-19 infection prevention requirements. It adds stringent requirements on employers to report a COVID-19 outbreak and details the penalties that employers could face for failure to do so.

With the ever-changing legal landscape regarding COVID-19 here are “need-to-know” rules about an employer’s duty to notify not only employees, but also local health agencies about potential COVID-19 exposure in the workplace:

What Constitutes a “Workplace Outbreak”?

According to the California Department of Public Health an outbreak in a non-healthcare or non-residential congregate setting workplace is defined as three or more laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 among employees who live in different households within a two-week period.

What MUST Employers Do If There Is A “Workplace Outbreak”?

Employers are required to notify all employees at the worksite of potential exposures, COVID-19-related benefits and protections, and disinfection and safety measures that will be taken at the workplace in response to the potential exposure. Notice to all employees must be in writing and notice must also be given to any of the employer’s subcontractors who were at the workplace as the person who tested positive for COVID-19 or who was subject to a COVID-19 related quarantine order. This notice must be provided within one day of the employer’s knowledge of the exposure.

Notice may be made by the employer in a manner in which the employer usually communicates with its employees/subcontractors, such as e-mail, or text message, so long as it can be reasonably anticipated that employees will receive the notice within one day.

Employers are also required to notify the local public health agency within 48 hours of becoming aware of the outbreak.

What Penalties Do Employer’s Face For Failure to Comply?

Cal/OSHA has wide-ranging authority and has the right to inspect the business premises where the outbreak occurred and assess citations and monetary fines.

What About Privacy Rights?

When providing notice to employees, the employer must NOT reveal the identity of the person who tested positive or was exposed to COVID-19. Further, discussions with HR staff are confidential and all medical information must remain private.

As an employer, it is imperative that your business has implemented a notice process. To ensure compliance with AB 685, the California Labor Code, and all other applicable laws or if there has been confirmed cases of COVID-19 cases at your workplace it is recommended that employers seek advice of a qualified attorney. Contact the lawyers at VRS to discuss issues and procedures necessary for your business with regard to a workplace COVID-19 outbreak.