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What to expect from California's new COVID workplace rules

COVID office workplace
Posted at 4:30 PM, May 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-21 20:19:43-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- As more Californians return to work in person, state regulators are still working out the details on masks and physical distancing in the workplace.

A board within the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA, postponed a vote scheduled for Thursday that would have updated the state’s requirements in workplaces.

The board delayed the vote so it could further loosen restrictions in line with the announcement from state health officials that on June 15 vaccinated individuals will no longer be required to wear masks or physically distance in most indoor and outdoor situations.

Although the updated regulations won’t be released until May 28, it’s clear there will be two sets of rules at the jobsite, according to employment law attorney Dan Eaton.

“You're going to have very different rules that apply to those who are fully vaccinated and those who are not fully vaccinated,” he said.

Based on the previous draft proposal, vaccinated workers will be allowed to go maskless in many situations, but they will have to show proof. The shelved proposal included a requirement that employees show documentation that they are at least 14 days past their second dose.

Businesses would have to provide high-quality masks to all unvaccinated workers and encourage their use, although the masks would be voluntary. Employers would also be required to test those unvaccinated workers for COVID at least weekly, or else the business would be subject to physical distancing requirements.

Regardless of the rules the board ultimately adopts, businesses can choose to continue requiring employees and customers to wear masks. They also can’t stop employees from wearing them.

Businesses that break Cal/OSHA’s rules are subject to fines.

Eaton says once you’re back in the workplace, expect a new kind of etiquette. If you see an employee wearing a mask, don’t ask them why.

“That starts to get into an inquiry as to whether somebody has a disability that makes vaccination unwarranted or a religious objection,” Eaton said. “Those are the kinds of conversations that are intrusive and that you really cannot have in the workplace.”

Eaton said if those questions become “severe or pervasive,” that could amount to harassment, which could get you or the business sued.

Cal/OSHA is expected to vote on the revised regulations June 3rd. Once adopted, the new standards would last until December.