New COVID Guidelines Unmasked, But Employers Are Still Subject to Cal/OSHA and Local Orders
Yesterday, the California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) issued a new “Guidance for the Use of Face Masks.” The new Guidance, which goes into effect at the state level on February 16, 2022, limits the settings in which universal masking will be required and also relaxes mask requirements for fully vaccinated individuals in many recreational and non-employment settings, such as dining, shopping, entertainment and sports venues, and more. Under the relaxed guidelines, vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals must still use masks on public transit and in transportation hubs; indoor schools (K-12) and childcare; emergency shelters and cooling and heating centers; healthcare settings; state and local correctional facilities and detention centers; homeless shelters; and long term care settings and adult and senior care facilities. Vaccinated individuals are still urged to wear masks in “high risk” situations.
We have already received inquiries from many clients regarding how the new guidelines affect mask requirements in the workplace.
Unfortunately, the relaxation of requirements at the state level does not give employers and employees as much freedom as they might like. Local governments are still allowed to issue more stringent indoor masking requirements than those issued by the state. According to various news sources, Los Angeles County’s health officials have expressed their intent to keep their guidelines in place beyond the state deadline.
Furthermore, as the LA County guidance reminds us, “in the workplace, workers must follow the most protective mask requirements as stated by Cal/OSHA and the County Health Officer Order. Certain employees may be exempt from wearing a mask in specific situations provided alternative safety measures are in place. See the Health Officer Order and Best Practices for Businesses webpage for more details.”
Employers throughout the state should consult and continue to comply with the Cal/OSHA Revised Emergency Temporary Standards for information regarding mask requirements in the workplace. Similar to the revised CDPH guidance, Section 3205 of the General Industry Safety Orders (COVID Prevention) requires all employees who are not fully vaccinated to wear face coverings when indoors or in vehicles, subject to certain exceptions set forth in the Section. Sections 3205 and 3205.1 also require use of face coverings in certain situations when an employee has had a close contact or is returning to work following COVID-related quarantine or isolation.
As a reminder, the ETS does provide exemptions from wearing a face covering:
- When an employee is alone in a room or vehicle.
- While eating or drinking at the workplace, provided employees are at least six feet apart and outside air supply to the area, if indoors, has been maximized to the extent feasible.
- For employees wearing respirators required by the employer and used in compliance with section 5144.
- For employees who cannot wear face coverings due to a medical or mental health condition or disability, or who are hearing-impaired or communicating with a hearing-impaired person.
- When specific tasks cannot feasibly be performed with a face covering. This exception is limited to the time period in which such tasks are actually being performed.