Cal/OSHA: All workers have to keep masks on if non-vaccinated people are present

Posted at 5:39 PM, Jun 04, 2021

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - While California prepares to reopen June 15, Cal/OSHA has voted to relax physical distancing requirements for California’s workforce, but voted to require masks for workers if any non-vaccinated people are present.

While the CDC said vaccinated people do not need to wear masks indoors (with the exception of in large groups) and California Governor Gavin Newsom is planning to ease restrictions starting June 15, Cal/OSHA has the ultimate say regarding what rules employees in the state have to follow.

RELATED: What Cal/OSHA's vote means for masks and the future of workplaces

University of San Diego law professor Orly Lobel said California’s state OSHA group has been known to create rules that are more strict than federal rules and has been known to be right in the end.

“We have seen this in the past where Cal/OSHA has been more stringent, where Cal/OSHA has had higher thresholds of what it deems safe and healthy environments and in fact, we do have empirical work and empirical evidence that it has done a better job in protecting employees,” said Lobel, adding that Cal/OSHA made good calls for worker’s protection in the 70s regarding construction and transportation rights.

The Cal/OSHA vote happened Thursday when the board initially rejected the revised standards in a 4-3 vote but reconsidered minutes later after some board members emphasized the changes at least loosened the rules currently in place. Those rules would have forced everyone to continue wearing masks and remain physically distanced, regardless of vaccine status.

With the new rules, jobs in public service, including restaurants, stores and hospitals will presumably all be required to wear masks because it would be impossible to verify if all of the people coming and going are vaccinated.

The revised proposal allows vaccinated workers to go maskless outdoors but they would have had to continue wearing masks indoors in situations where they might encounter an unvaccinated individual.

Businesses will be required to keep documentation of employees’ vaccine status. Many business groups asked about the documentation requirements at the meeting. The regulations also put new requirements on employers to purchase N95 masks, prompting concern that employers might have to rapidly "stockpile" the respirators.

Katie Hansen, Senior Legislative Director for the California Restaurant Association, said the expense of keeping N95 masks handy is just the beginning of restaurant owners’ concerns.

“It has been a long hard year of opening and closing and opening again and then to be told that even if you’re vaccinated, you need to wear a mask at work through the end of the year, it’s just really difficult,” said Hansen.

She pointed out that the new ruling is not consistent.

“Someone could work a lunch shift, have to wear a mask the entire time, go home and change out of their work clothes, go back to dinner at that very same restaurant with their family or friends unmasked… it’s just incredibly frustrating,” said Hansen.

This is not the final decision from Cal/OSHA, though. A subcommittee will continue to meet and consider more changes.