With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continuing to impact workplace safety and regulatory requirements, California’s Assembly Bill (AB) 685, could affect how you manage COVID-19 procedures at your business. The Department of Industrial Relations—better known as Cal/OSHA—issues COVID-19-related fines for businesses that fail to report cases, maintain an effective prevention program, or adequately protect employees or customers. We’ve highlighted several key provisions of the bill, along with additional considerations to help you comply with Cal/OSHA and avoid potential penalties related to COVID-19 violations.
We’ve highlighted several key provisions of the bill, along with additional considerations to help you comply with Cal/OSHA and avoid potential penalties related to COVID-19 violations.
Provisions currently in effect
Reporting COVID-19 cases to Cal/OSHA
California employers are required to inform Cal/OSHA of any serious illness, serious injury, or death of an employee that occurred at work or in connection with work within eight hours of when they knew, or should have known, of the illness. This definition includes COVID-19, if the illness requires inpatient hospitalization for purposes other than medical observation or diagnostic testing.
This means if a worker becomes ill at work—even if the illness hasn’t been diagnosed, but COVID-19 is suspected—and they’re admitted as inpatient at a hospital, the employer must report this illness to the nearest Cal/OSHA office.
Remember, serious illnesses include those contracted “in connection with any employment,” which may include cases in which symptoms begin to appear outside of work. An employer should report a serious illness if there’s cause to believe the illness may be work-related, regardless of whether the onset of symptoms occurred at work.
For confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases, transmission at or during work would make a serious illness reportable. When reporting, the employer should provide information on:
- The number of cases in the workplace
- The type, extent, and duration of contact the employee had at the work environment with other people, including the general public
- Physical distancing and other controls that impact the likelihood of workrelated exposure
- Whether the employee had work-related contact with anyone who exhibited signs and symptoms of COVID-19
Even if the employer can’t confirm the employee contracted COVID-19 at work, they should report the illness to Cal/OSHA if:
- The employee requires inpatient hospitalization for treatment
- There’s reason to believe the employee was exposed in their work environment
Recording COVID-19 cases on OSHA 300 logs
In addition to reporting COVID-19 cases directly to Cal/OSHA when meeting the criteria above, employers must also record work-related illnesses, injuries, and fatalities like any other occupational incident. To be recordable, an illness must be work-related and result in one or more of the following:
- Days away from work
- Restricted work or transfer to another job
- Medical treatment beyond first aid
- Loss of consciousness
- A significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional
If a work-related COVID-19 case meets any of these criteria, covered employers in California must record the case on their 300, 300A, and 301 (or equivalent) forms. Though determination of recordability is typically confirmed through a positive test result, if COVID-19 is suspected based on reasonable factors, Cal/OSHA recommends erring on the side of recordability.
Provisions in effect from January 1, 2021, until January 1, 2023
This bill revises the labor code to include COVID-19 as part of the workplace imminent hazard definition. This means if a worksite, operation, or process presents a risk of infection to workers, the employer must immediately close the area or process where the risk is present. Additionally, if provided notice of an imminent hazard by Cal/OSHA, the employer must post the notice in a conspicuous place until the area is declared safe and a Cal/OSHA representative removes the notice.
Cal/OSHA has also added a rebuttal presumption that a serious violation exists at a worksite if they determine a realistic possibility that death or serious physical harm could result from the violation.
Notification of potential exposure
An employer who has received notice of potential employee exposure to COVID-19 must provide all employees (and employees of subcontractors) who may have been exposed with information regarding COVID-19-related benefits they may be entitled to. This notification must occur within one business day. These benefits may include,
but aren’t limited to:
- Workers' compensation
- COVID-19-related leave
- Company sick leave
- State-mandated leave
- Supplemental sick leave
- Negotiated leave provisions
The employer must also notify all employees and employees of subcontractors of their disinfection and safety plan.
Note: An employer may not retaliate against a worker for disclosing a positive COVID19 test or diagnosis, or for complying with an order to quarantine or isolate.
Procedures for COVID-19 outbreaks
If an employer is notified that their number of cases meets the California Department of Public Health's definition of a COVID-19 outbreak, the employer must notify their local public health agency within 48 hours to provide the names, occupations, worksites, and total number of affected employees.
The bill requires employers who experience an outbreak to continue providing notice to the local health department of any subsequent laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 at their worksite.
If you have questions, please reach out to your assigned safety consultant or account manager, or contact us if we can be of further assistance.