We knew they were coming! 

The new CalOSHA regulations to protect California workers from getting COVID-19 in the workplace have arrived. The timing coincides with rapidly increasing case rates and a new round of statewide lockdowns.

On November 19, 2020, the CalOSHA Standards Board adopted emergency temporary standards to protect workers from COVID-19. On November 30th, the rule was approved by the Office of Administrative Law and is now in effect.  

Up to this point, CalOSHA had been encouraging employers to follow their published guidelines for managing COVID-19 exposure in the workplace. These guidelines didn’t have any teeth to them, resulting in varying levels of conformance among employers. Leaving no real recourse for CalOSHA, when they came upon “bad actors.”  With these new regulations, employers are now required to comply. They must add the necessary programs, policies, and procedures for COVID-19 prevention or face enforcement action for non-compliance.

Who does this standard apply to?

The temporary standard applies to most employers and employees in California. The exception is employers currently covered by Cal/OSHA’s Aerosol Transmissible Diseases Standard which primarily applies to health care workers. Other exceptions include places of employment with one employee who does not have contact with other persons or employees working from home.

What is the main requirement?

The main requirement of the temporary standard is that employers and companies must prepare, establish, implement, and maintain an effective, written COVID-19 Prevention Program which may be integrated into the employer’s Injury and Illness Prevention Program or be maintained in a separate document.

The written COVID-19 Prevention Program (CPP) must include all elements outlined in the table below:

Program Element


1. Communication System

Process for employees to report COVID-19 symptoms without fear of retaliation

2. COVID-19 Hazard Identification and Evaluation

  1. Employee symptom screening
  2. Identify COVID-19 transmission hazards 
  3. Evaluate existing controls
  4. Perform periodic inspections and include employees in the process

3. COVID-19 Positive Case Investigation and Response Process

  1. Determine the day and time the COVID-19 case was last present in the workplace and if possible, the date they first had symptoms
  2. Determine who may have had COVID-19 exposure
  3. Provide notice to potentially exposed employees within one business day (in a fashion that does not provide any identifying information)
  4. Offer no cost COVID-19 testing to all employees that had potential exposure
  5. Investigate whether any workplace conditions could have contributed to the risk of COVID-19 exposure

4. COVID-19 Hazard Correction

Implement effective policies and procedures for correcting unsafe or unhealthy conditions, work practices, policies, or procedures

5. COVID-19 Hazard Training and Instruction

Provide training to inform employees how COVID-19 is spread and about your Prevention Program requirements

6. Physical Distancing

Ensure employees are separated by at least six feet

7. Face Coverings

The employer shall provide face coverings and ensure they are worn by employees.

8. Other Engineering Controls, Administrative Controls, and Personal Protective Equipment

When physical distancing is not possible, the employer shall design and implement other control measures to limit exposure.

9. Reporting, Recordkeeping, and Access

Process for reporting/recording COVID-19 cases including reporting to respective public health departments

10. Exclusion of COVID-19 Exposed Employee

Employees with COVID-19 exposure should be excluded from the workplace for 14 days from the last known exposure to a COVID-19 case.

11. Return to Work Criteria

COVID-19 cases with COVID-19 symptoms shall not return to work until:

  1. At least 24 hours have passed since a fever of 100.4 or higher has resolved without the use of fever-reducing medications;
  2. COVID-19 symptoms have improved; and
  3. At least 10 days have passed since COVID-19 symptoms first appeared

COVID-19 cases with no symptoms shall not return to work until a minimum of 10 days has passed since the date of specimen collection of their first positive COVID-19 test.

How do employers respond to COVID-19 outbreaks?

Additionally, the temporary standard provides specific requirements on how employers are to respond to COVID-19 “outbreaks” within the workplace. The CalOSHA requirements are outlined below and are broken into two types of responses depending on the severity of the outbreak.

1. Multiple COVID-19 Infections and COVID-19 Outbreaks

A multiple COVID-19 infection workplace is defined as a place of employment with three or more cases in an exposed workplace within 14 days (or a workplace that has been identified by the health department as an outbreak area) and will be considered a multiple infection workplace until there are no new cases for a 14-day period.

Multiple infection workplace testing requirements:

  • The employer shall provide no cost COVID-19 testing to all employees at the exposed workplace except for employees who were not present during the relevant 14-day period.
  • Testing shall be during the employee’s workings hours.
  • All employees in the exposed workplace shall be tested and then tested again one week later.
  • After the first two COVID-19 tests, employers shall provide continuous COVID-19 testing of employees who remain at the workplace at least once per week (or more frequently if recommended by the local health department).

2. Major COVID-19 Outbreaks

A major outbreak workplace is defined as a place of employment with 20 or more COVID-19 cases in an exposed workplace within a 30-day period and will be considered a major outbreak workplace until there are no new cases for a 14-day period.

Major outbreak testing requirements:

  • The employer shall provide no cost COVID-19 testing to all employees at the workplace except for employees who were not present during the relevant 30-day period.
  • Testing shall be provided during an employee’s working hours.
  • Employers shall provide twice-a-week COVID-19 testing to all employees present at the exposed workplace during the relevant 30-day period and who remain at the workplace.

Requirements for workplaces considered a major outbreak:

  • Employers need to add a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) 13 or higher efficiency filters in buildings or structures with mechanical ventilation.
  • Determine the need for a respiratory protection program or changes/improvements to an existing respiratory protection program.
  • Evaluate whether to halt some or all operations at the workplace until COVID-19 hazards have been corrected.

Additional FAQs:

What is considered COVID-19 exposure?

“COVID-19 exposure” means being within six feet of a COVID-19 case for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or greater in any 24-hour period within or overlapping with the “high-risk exposure period” defined by this section. This definition applies regardless of the use of face coverings.

What are considered COVID-19 symptoms?

“COVID-19 symptoms” means a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, or diarrhea, unless a licensed health care professional determines the person’s symptoms were caused by a known condition other than COVID-19.

What is considered a COVID-19 case?

A person who:

  1. Has a positive “COVID-19 test” (A viral test for SARS-CoV-2 with EUA)
  2. Is subject to COVID-19 related order to isolate issued by a local or state health official; or
  3. Has died due to COVID-19, in the determination of a local health department or per inclusion in the COVID-19 statistics of a county.

When is a person no longer a COVID-19 case?

A person is no longer a “COVID-19 case” when a licensed health care professional determines that the person does not have COVID-19, in accordance with recommendations made by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) or the local health department pursuant to authority granted under the Health and Safety Code or Title 17, California Code of Regulations to CDPH or the local health department.

What are California employers required to provide employees who must be excluded from the workplace?

Employers shall continue to maintain an employee’s earnings, seniority, and all other employee rights and benefits including the employee’s right to their former job status as if the employee had not been removed from their job. Employers may use employer-provided employee sick leave benefits for this purpose and consider benefit payments from public sources in determining how to maintain earnings, rights, and benefits, where permitted by law and when not covered by workers’ compensation.

Where can I find more details on CalOSHA’s requirements?

See this December 1st news release from the Department of Industrial Relations for more details.

NOTE: Additional regulations apply for employer-provided housing and transportation.  

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