This has been a challenging year for California employers navigating the COVID-19 pandemic with a set of ever-changing regulatory requirements, as well as a flurry of other new workplace safety laws the legislature passed towards the end of 2021. This update covered the latest legislative and rulemaking developments concerning COVID-19, including the second re-adopted COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). We will also cover other laws creating new workplace safety requirements and expanding the Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s (DOSH) enforcement authority.
California Governor Newsom has just signed Senate Bill 606 authored by Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), broadly expanding Cal/OSHA’s enforcement authority and the penalty amounts employers may be assessed. This new law targets employers with multiple work sites in California, recognizing violations on an enterprise-wide basis resulting from a written policy or procedure or otherwise a pattern of violations. SB 606 also empowers Cal/OSHA to levy penalties for each violation and each employee deemed exposed to an alleged hazard where there is a finding an employer “willfully and egregiously” violated a safety order. Lastly, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, also known as Cal/OSHA, is empowered to seek permanent injunctions in civil court against employers who are deemed in violation of the new law. SB 606 will take effect January 1, 2022.
SB 606 leaves little room for California employers to make an honest mistake or to be presumed by Cal/OSHA as acting in good faith. The new law is likely to foster a radical change in the way Cal/OSHA interacts with employers and weaken employers’ appeal rights. It is certain that the penalties assessed for citations will increase as will the number of appeals filed with the Cal/OSHA Appeals Board. It is therefore crucial that employers, large and small, understand these regulatory changes and take steps now to strengthen their safety programs to be as bulletproof as possible. To that end, we have broken our discussion of the law into two key parts. Continue reading →