California employers have been on a four-week rollercoaster ride over Cal/OSHA’s revisions to its Emergency Temporary Standard (“ETS”). The ETS was originally effective November 2020. In May 2021, the Board for Cal/OSHA approved revisions to the ETS, and then withdrew the revisions five days before California’s state-wide reopening on June 15. Days later the Board proposed new revisions to the ETS.  On June 17, 2021, the Board finally approved revisions to the ETS.  The same day, the Governor signed an Executive Order making the revised ETS effective immediately. Below is a recap of some key new rules under the ETS affecting California employers.

  1. Employers may allow fully vaccinated employees not to wear face coverings indoors (except in outbreaks) but must document their vaccination status.
  2. There are no face covering requirements outdoors (except during outbreaks), regardless of vaccination status, though workers should be trained on the California Department of Public Health’s (“CDPH”) recommendations for outdoor use of face coverings. CDPH’s recommendations can be found here.
  3. In outbreaks, all employees must wear face coverings indoors and outdoors when six-feet physical distancing cannot be maintained, regardless of vaccination status.
  4. Employers must provide unvaccinated employees with approved respirators for voluntary use when working indoors or in a vehicle with others, upon request. The respirator must be the right size, and the employee must receive basic instruction on how to get a good “seal” or fit.
  5. Physical distancing and barrier requirements are eliminated, regardless of employee vaccination status with the following exceptions:
      • Employers must evaluate whether it is necessary to implement physical distancing and barriers during an outbreak (3 or more cases in an exposed group of employees)
      • Employers must implement physical distancing and barriers during a major outbreak (20 or more cases in an exposed group of employees)
  6. Fully vaccinated employees without symptoms do not need to be tested or quarantined after close contacts with COVID-19 cases unless they have symptoms.
  7. Employers may not retaliate against employees from wearing face coverings.
  8. Employers must evaluate ventilation systems to maximize outdoor air and increase filtration efficiency, and evaluate the use of additional air cleaning systems

While employers now have clarification on rules governing masking, physical distancing and barriers in the workplace, they still need to sort out documenting proof of vaccination, providing approved respirators upon request for voluntary use, and testing for fully vaccinated employees.  Cal/OSHA FAQs can be found here.


There remains in place many requirements from the original November 2020 ETS, including:

  • Mandatory, written COVID-19 Prevention Programs.
  • Providing effective training and instruction to employees on the employer’s prevention plan and their rights under the ETS.
  • Providing notification to public health departments of outbreaks.
  • Providing notification to employees of exposure and close contacts.
  • Requirements to offer testing after potential exposures.
  • Requirements for responding to COVID-19 cases and outbreaks.
  • Quarantine and exclusion pay requirements.

Stay tuned for updates and more guidance to meet the new ETS requirements.