[Client Alert] New California Employment Laws for 2021 Will Leave Their Mark

By Andrew Sommer, Fred Walter, and Megan Shaked

2020 has been another banner year for California employment laws, with legislation and Cal/OSHA rulemaking associated with COVID-19 prevention and reporting taking center stage.  In our annual update of new employment laws impacting California private sector employers, we lead off with California’s COVID-19 related laws, given their far-reaching impact on the state’s workforce during the pandemic as employers continue to implement measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.  We have also addressed other substantive legislative developments, particularly in the areas of wage and hour law and reporting of employee pay data.  Unless otherwise indicated, these new laws will take effect on January 1, 2021.

COVID-19 Related Rulemaking and Legislation

Temporary Emergency COVID-19 Prevention Rule Not to be outdone by Virginia OSHA, Oregon OSHA or Michigan OSHA, Cal/OSHA adopted an onerous COVID-19 specific temporary emergency regulation effective November 30, 2020.  Below is a detailed summary of how we got here, as well as an outline of what the rule requires.

On November 19, 2020, the California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Standards Board) voted unanimously to adopt an Emergency COVID-19 Prevention Rule following a contentious public hearing with over 500 participants in attendance (albeit virtually).  The Emergency Rule was then presented to California’s Office of Administrative Law for approval and publication.  The Rule brings with it a combination of requirements overlapping with and duplicative of already-existing state and county requirements applicable to employers, as well as a number of new and, in some cases, very burdensome compliance obligations.

The Standards Board’s emergency rulemaking was triggered last May with the submission of a Petition for an emergency rulemaking filed by worker advocacy group WorkSafe and National Lawyers’ Guild, Labor & Employment Committee.  The Petition requested the Board amend Title 8 standards to create two new regulations Continue reading

Conn Maciel Carey is pleased to announce the launch of the Cal/OSHA Defense Report Blog

The Cal/OSHA attorneys in Conn Maciel Carey’s national OSHA Practice Group are excited to announce the launch of The Cal/OSHA Defense Report bog!

The Cal/OSHA Defense Report is a blog designed to bring California employers recent developments in workplace safety and health law, but not just to note that something has happened, but to talk about why California employers should care, and how it will affect their business.

We started the Cal/OSHA Defense Report blog because we frequent several useful blogs dedicated to practical day-to-day workplace safety & health issues, but none that dive deep into workplace safety & health legal and regulatory issues, especially not focused on the unique regulatory environment in California. This new blog is intended to fill that void.

The Cal/OSHA Defense Report will be the place to go to learn about significant new developments from California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) and the Cal/OSH Standards Board.  The blog will cover such topics as Continue reading

Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard Approved by OAL and Immediately Effective

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

Earlier today, we shared an update about Cal/OSHA’s fast-moving rulemaking for an emergency COVID-19 prevention rule, along with a detailed summary of how we got here, as well as an outline of what the California rule will require.

We wanted to give you an update as soon as we heard, and we just heard… OAL has officially approved Cal/OSHA’s emergency COVID-19 prevention regulation.  OAL’s website was just updated with this entry:

And here is the Cal/OSHA website reflecting the current status of the rule and the final approved regulation language: “Text Approved by OAL.

As Cal/OSHA’s website notes, the rule was filed with the Secretary of State today, and it is immediately effective – all provisions.  However, during the Board’s final public hearing about the rule, the Division signaled there would be some reasonable delay in enforcement.  Specifically, Division Chief Doug Parker told the Standards Board:

“Some employers are going to need more time. We intend to fully take that into account in determining how they’re implementing the rule….  The Division will consider ‘good-faith’ efforts on the part of employers and will offer compliance assistance.”

Be cautious about that, however, as the agency has not issued anything formal conveying this enforcement discretion, and to the extent the new rule merely formalizes some requirement Cal/OSHA already believed it had authority to enforce under the IIPP rule, do not expect any leniency.  Be sure to document the efforts you are taking to come into compliance, especially where coming into full compliance will take a little time.

Here is what will happen next:

  • Guidance / FAQs:  Cal/OSHA has indicated that it will soon be issuing FAQs and other guidance as early as this week that will hopefully “clarify” some of the provisions that we have flagged as ambiguous or problematic in our comments and other discussions with the Division.  For example, we anticipate some guidance confirming that employers may Continue reading

Update on Cal/OSHA’s Wildfire Smoke Rule

By Andrew Sommer and Fred Walter

In May of this year, Conn Maciel Carey’s OSHA Practice submitted comments to the Cal/OSH Standards Board on behalf of the Wildfire Smoke Rule Industry Coalition about the agency’s effort to make permanent what had been Emergency Temporary Standard to protect workers from the respiratory hazards of California wildfires.

Last month, the Cal/OSH Standards Board issued a 15-day Notice of Proposed Modifications to what would become the permanent wildfire smoke rule. The proposed changes are not major, mostly clarifying that one of the methods for determining the Air Quality Index for particulate matter 2.5 is the Interagency Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program.

Another change to be expected in the final rule is a revision to the Appendix B training instructions to address cleaning and maintenance of reusable respirators, purportedly to address critical shortages of N95 respirators exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. While anything that extends the supply of N95 masks is welcome, that change alone is not nearly enough to solve a massive compliance problem created by the rule. With the Wildfire Smoke Rule, DOSH requires workers exposed to wildfire smoke be supplied with N95 respirators, and it does not consider surgical masks to be acceptable substitutes. DOSH concedes that N95 respirators are generally not available to any but medical workers right now, but they have no recommended substitutes.

That was one of the primary points of emphasis in our coalition’s comments — the rule needed to include some flexibility around the requirement for employers to supply N95 respirator masks for all potentially affected workers. There were already problems with N95 shortages even before the COVID-19 pandemic, but now, the shortage is extreme, and with the CDC’s and OSHA’s recommendations that all supplies of N95s should be reserved for the healthcare industry obviously makes compliance with a a rigid N95 requirement for wildfire smoke protection impossible for most employers. Now in the midst of another wildfire season in California, employers are continuing to experience N95 shortages.

Continue reading

Coalition for Uniformity in COVID-19 Recordkeeping Advocates for Cal/OSHA to Realign its Requirements

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

As we previously reported, in late May, Cal/OSHA issued a new set of COVID-19 Recordkeeping and Reporting FAQs that represented a serious departure from federal OSHA’s guidance on that same subject.  Throughout the pandemic, federal OSHA has maintained that employers need only record and report COVID-19 cases that are:

  1. Confirmed by a positive laboratory test of a respiratory specimen; and
  2. “More likely than not” the result of a workplace exposure, based on reasonably available evidence, and the absence of any alternative (non-work) explanation for the employee’s illness.

Cal/OSHA’s May 27th guidance, however, breaks from both of those key requirements for COVID-19 recordkeeping, rejecting the need for a confirmed case and flipping the burden of establishing work-relatedness on its head, Cal-OSHA RK FAQSestablishing instead a presumption of work-related if any workplace exposure can be identified, even if the cause of the illness is just as likely to be attributable to a non-work exposure.

Aside from being bad policy that will result in many illnesses being recorded on 300 Logs only in California that were not actually COVID-19 cases, and/or that were not caused by exposures in the workplace, Cal/OSHA’s unique COVID-19 recording criteria are not permitted by law.

More COVID-19 cases on your logs can create significant risk of liability.  For example, there is no doubt an avalanche of wrongful death and personal injury suits waiting around the corner, and while recording an illness is not an admission of wrong-doing, it is an admission that the illness was likely spread in your workplace.  Plaintiffs’ attorneys will make hay of that to show your exposure control efforts were insufficient, or to show that the illnesses experienced by their clients (customers, contractors, family members of employees, and others whose suits would not be barred by workers’ compensation exclusivity) likely were also contracted in your workplace or because of your workplace.  And of course, more illnesses having to be recorded also creates more potential for Cal/OSHA citations for failure to record or failure to record timely or accurately.

The Coalition for Uniformity in COVID-19 Recordkeeping

Conn Maciel Carey organized and represents the Coalition for Uniformity in COVID-19 Recordkeeping, which is composed of a broad array of California employers impacted by Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 recordkeeping requirements. Continue reading

Wildfire Smoke Rule Coalition Comments on Cal/OSHA’s Proposed Permanent Wildfire Smoke Standard

By Andrew J. Sommer and Eric J. Conn

On behalf of a diverse coalition of employers, Conn Maciel Carey submitted written comments and presented key comments at the Cal/OSH Standards Board’s May 21, 2020 meeting concerning the proposed permanent rule on protection from wildfire smoke.  The coalition raised a host of concerns about the rule, from the potentially broad application of the rule to the inflexible respiratory protection and hierarchy of controls requirements.

As background,  the Cal/OSH Standards Board adopted an emergency regulation regarding hazards associated with wildfire smoke last summer at the urging of various interest groups.  The regulation took effect on a temporary emergency basis on July 29, 2019.

Recently, the Board published a request for written comments and notice of a public hearing on its proposal to revise the emergency standard and make it permanent.  The Board explained:

Current regulations are not sufficiently specific as to what employers are required to do during wildfire events. This results in confusion on behalf of both employers and employees, leaving many employees unprotected….  As wildfire seasons worsen, the proposed regulation will avoid a potential increase in debilitating and sometimes life-threatening illnesses faced by workers exposed to wildfire smoke.

The Emergency Standard

The emergency standard (which is still in effect) requires California employers to take steps to protect employees who may be exposed to wildfire smoke.  Importantly, the regulation covers “workplaces” rather than employers of a particular size or scope of service. It applies in workplaces where:

  • The current Air Quality Index (AQI) for PM2.5 is 151 or greater, regardless of the AQI for other pollutants, and
  • The employer should reasonably anticipate that employees may be exposed to wildfire smoke.

The regulation specifically exempts Continue reading