The Golden State continues to be submerged in a rather bizarre reality. State and local government officials continue to juggle between safety and health concerns in one hand, and economic turmoil on the other. With no concise timeline as to when will business may go back to “normal” operations, employers must continue to comply with the labyrinth of federal, state and local rules regulations addressing COVID-19 issues. Unsurprisingly, administrative agencies have begun turning their resources towards enforcement of these rules and regulation. The latest agency to jump into this bandwagon is the California Department of Industrial Relations Division of Occupational Safety & Health (DOSH), or Cal/OSHA.

As an enforcement mechanism, Cal/OSHA may cite employers or businesses who fail to comply with health and safety requirements, particularly as they relate to COVID-19. Cal/OSHA has certainly deployed the “stick” method for employer compliance, as it issued citations to 11 different employers, equating to a total of roughly $116,775. These citations ranged from $2,025 to $51,190.

But why were these businesses cited? These particular businesses were cited for failing to protect workers from exposure to COVID-19, as they did not take steps to update their workplace safety plans to properly address hazards related to the virus. Among the reasons for the citations included: the businesses’ failure to ensure physical distancing, failing to install Plexiglas or other barriers between workers, failure to implement procedures to screen employees and visitors upon arrival to the facility, and failure to take appropriate measures for employees exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms at the business. The message is clear: employers should have already developed methods, strategies, and protocols to ensure compliance with these requirements.

Although these businesses are in the food processing, meatpacking, health care, agriculture and retail industries, this serves as a reminder to all businesses in any industry to comply with Cal/OSHA requirements. Indeed, Cal/OSHA Chief, Doug Parker, clearly stated that:

“These are industries where workers have been disproportionately affected, and these citations are the first of many to be issued in the coming weeks and months.”

Requirements Under Cal/OSHA

The overarching rule is that employers have a duty to provide work and workplaces that are safe and healthful. Further, Cal/OSHA’s regulations require protection for workers exposed to airborne infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

In particular, Cal/OSHA requires employers:

  • To implement an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (“IIPP”). The purpose of an IIPP is to protect employees from workplace hazards, including COVID-19. The IIPP should clearly establish relevant and applicable infection prevention measures, such as encouraging sick employees to stay home, encourage teleworking, and to practice social distancing. For a more detailed discussion of the requirements, see our previous post here.
  • Provide employee training. Employers must provide training to their employees with respect to COVID-19 generally, the ways in which COVID-19 may be spread by a person, proper use of cloth face coverings, the proper method for washing hands, and cleaning and sanitizing.
  • Provide personal protective equipment (PPE), if applicable. Employers must conduct a “hazard assessment” to determine if any PPE is needed to protect employees from hazards present – or likely to be present – in the workplace. Employers should review their local health department rules, requirements and regulations to ensure compliance. For example, restaurants doing businesses with Los Angeles County must provide employees with face masks and face shields.

Cal/OSHA has issued industry-specific guidance and guidelines on how to protect workers from COVID-19, and can be accessed here.

Employers should use this as an opportunity to review their protocols and ensure compliance not only with local regulations, but with safe and healthy requirements under Cal/OSHA.