New COVID-19 Workplace Exposure Requirements for Employers

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law AB 685. The law aims to thwart exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace and protect employees from any such exposure. Specifically, it outlines important employer notice, reporting, and accountability measures to protect employees. It also authorizes the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health to prohibit entry into a place of employment if it is deemed to pose an Imminent Hazard Risk to employees.

Important Steps for Employers

Employers should be aware of these new legal requirements and ensure that they have a solid COVID-19 exposure response plan in place. Being adequately prepared to meet the quick employee and government agency notice requirements will be important for employers.

Effective Date and Termination Date

This law will be in effect from January 1, 2021 through December 31, 2022.

Requirement #1: Notice of Possible Exposure to Employees

If an employer has notice that a COVID-19 Qualifying Individual was present in the workplace, the employer must, within one business day of the notice, provide written notice of possible exposure to all employees who were onsite at the same workplace as the qualifying individual within the infectious period (as defined by the California Department of Public Health). This employee notice must include the following:

  • That employees may have been exposed to COVID-19 at the worksite
  • Information about COVID-19-related benefits and options for which they may be eligible under applicable law (local, state and federal), including workers’ compensation, COVID-19-related leave and sick leave, as well as employee anti-retaliation and anti-discrimination protections
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-compliant disinfection and safety plan details that the employer plans to implement and complete

Employee representatives (unions) and employers of subcontracted employees must be included in the above notices.

Employers are required to keep records relating to any notices they provide to employees for at least three years.

* A COVID-19 Qualifying Individual is defined as someone who has a laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19, who has a positive COVID-19 diagnosis from a licensed health care provider, who is subject to a COVID-19-related order to isolate by a public health official, or who died due to COVID-19.


Requirement #2: Notification to Local Public Health Agencies

If an employer has a COVID-19 outbreak** at a worksite, it must take the following steps:

  • Notify the local public health agency within 48 hours of the outbreak
  • Data reported must include:
  • Number, names, occupations, and worksites of any qualifying individuals
  • Business address where the outbreak occurred
  • NAICS industry codes of the worksites where the qualifying individuals work and
  • Continue to notify the local health department of subsequent laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the worksite.

** COVID-19 Outbreak is currently defined by the California Department of Public Health as three or more laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 among employees who live in different households within a two-week period of time.


Requirement #3: Imminent Hazard Notice at the Workplace

The law empowers the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health to prohibit the entry into or operation of a workplace that exposes employees to the risk of infection with COVID-19. It allows the OSH to impose such a prohibition to the extent that it constitutes an “imminent hazard” to employees. Lastly, employers are required to post a notice at the workplace if such a closure is mandated.

Need More Info?

The California Department of Industrial Relations has published FAQs to help employers navigate the requirements of this new law.

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