What Employers Need to Know about the Pay and Benefits Continuation Elements of Cal/OSHA’s COVID-19 Emergency Rule

By Mark TrappAndrew Sommer, and Beeta Lashkari

On November 30, 2020, Cal/OSHA issued its final COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”), with all of its provisions effective immediately.  One of those provisions — the exclusion pay and benefits continuation requirements — has been at the center of much controversy.

Typical among these COVID-19 emergency rules, the Cal/OSHA regulations requires employers to exclude from the workplace “COVID-19 cases” as well as employees who experience a “close contact” exposure (i.e., contact within 6′ of a confirmed case for a cumulative 15 minutes). But the Cal/OSHA ETS gets controversial at Sec. 3205(c)(10)(C), where it requires employers to continue and maintain those employees’ earnings, seniority, and all other employment rights and benefits, as if the employee had not been removed from the job. Where permitted by law and when not covered by workers’ compensation, employers may use employer-provided employee sick leave benefits, and may consider benefit payments from public sources, in determining how to maintain earnings, rights and benefits.

There are several important exceptions to these exclusion pay and benefits continuation requirements.  For example, the ETS provides that the provision does not kick in for any period of time when the employee is not able to work for reasons other than protecting persons at the workplace from possible COVID-19 transmission.  Likewise, the pay and benefits continuation provision does not apply where the employer can demonstrate the employee’s COVID-19 exposure is not work-related.  Finally, although not characterized as an “exception” specific to the exclusion pay and benefits provision, the ETS does also carve-out employees who can be temporarily reassigned to work where they do not have contact with other persons until applicable return-to-work requirements are met.

To provide some clarification about this pay and benefits continuation provision (as well as most other elements of the ETS), Cal/OSHA has issued two batches of FAQs, most recently updated January 8th.  There are now 10 FAQs related to exclusion pay and benefits, most notable among them: Continue reading

President Biden’s Day 1 Executive Order regarding OSHA’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

We did not have to wait long for the big update we have been holding our breath about – what the Biden Administration’s plans will be for a federal COVID-19 emergency standard.  As we expected, in just his first full day in Office (January 21, 2021), President Biden has already issued an Executive Order focused on OSHA’s approach to managing the COVID-19 crisis in the workplace, but the answer about a federal COVID-19 ETS is not as clear as we expected, or at least, the definitive answer will come a little later.

In the Order entitled “Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety,” President Biden has directed federal OSHA to revisit its overall strategy for regulating and enforcing issues associated with workplace spread of COVID-19 to execute his Administration’s policy on worker safety:

“Ensuring the health and safety of workers is a national priority and a moral imperative. Healthcare workers and other essential workers, many of whom are people of color and immigrants, have put their lives on the line during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. It is the policy of my Administration to protect the health and safety of workers from COVID-19.”

Specifically, President Biden has directed the Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA to take four key actions relative to COVID-19 in the workplace: 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

Coalition to Comment on Cal/OSHA’s Emergency COVID-19 Rulemaking

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

On September 17, 2020, the Standards Board voted to grant a Petition filed by the worker advocacy group WorkSafe to promulgate a general industry emergency COVID-19 regulation.  This emergency temporary standard will almost certainly be followed by the development of a permanent infectious disease standard.  The intent of the rulemaking is to set specific, enforceable requirements and prohibitions for California employers, whose employees may be exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace, but who are not covered by Cal/OSHA’s existing Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) standard (generally applicable to healthcare operations).

Serious Concerns About the Likely Proposed Emergency Regulation

Although Cal/OSHA has not yet published a proposed standard, the WorkSafe petition included a proposed rule that sets specific requirements for identifying and evaluating COVID-19 workplace hazards, responding to COVID-19 exposures, and conducting employee training, among numerous other requirements.  The scuttlebutt we are hearing suggests the Standards Board is likely to follow the WorkSafe’s proposed model for both this emergency rule and a follow-up permanent infectious disease standard.

Regardless of the approach the Standards Board follows, it will be imperative for the employer community to have its voice heard in the rulemaking process, with a set of robust comments and other advocacy.  But if the agency does try to run with a proposal like the one WorkSafe designed, we have already identified numerous potential concerns for employers, including: Continue reading