California has passed Assembly Bill (AB) 685 requiring employers to notify employees and contractors in the event of a “potential exposure” to COVID-19 and alert local health departments about coronavirus “outbreaks” in their workplaces. The law takes effect on January 1, 2021.
Sending Exposure Notice to Employees
Under the new law, except in limited circumstances, a California public or private employer (or its representative) that receives a notice of potential exposure to COVID-19 must issue a notice to employees at the facility or worksite within one business day. A “potential exposure” includes when an employee:
- Has a laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19;
- Received a positive coronavirus diagnosis from a licensed healthcare provider;
- Was ordered to isolate because of the virus;
- Has died from COVID-19; or
- Was exposed at the workplace to anyone in the above categories.
Within 1 business day of being told about the potential exposure, the employer must provide written notice to individuals in the following categories who were on the same worksite as the person who is the subject of the potential exposure during the “infectious period” (currently defined as 14 days by the California Department of Public Health): (1) all of the employer’s employees, (2) any union representing the notified employees, and (3) the employers of any subcontracted labor.
The notices must let the recipients know they may have been exposed to COVID-19. Employers may provide written notice in a manner normally used to communicate employment-related information, including e-mail or text message, so long as it’s reasonably anticipated the recipients will get it within one business day. The notice must be in both English and the language understood by the majority of the employees to whom the notice is required. Employers must keep coronavirus records for at least 3 years.
In the written notice, employers also must cover certain information about COVID-19-related benefits and options including:
- Benefits available under applicable federal, state, or local laws, including workers’ compensation;
- Options for exposed employees, including coronavirus-related leave, company sick leave, state-mandated leave, supplemental sick leave, or other negotiated leave provisions; and
- Antiretaliation and antidiscrimination protections covering the employee.
An employer receiving notice of a potential exposure also must notify all employees about the disinfection and safety plan it intends to implement and complete per U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
Providing Outbreak Notice to Health Department
With limited exceptions for healthcare facilities, an employer must notify the local health department in the jurisdiction of the worksite at issue about any COVID-19 outbreak within 48 hours. (An “outbreak” is currently defined as three or more coronavirus cases within a 14-day period.) Thereafter, the employer must notify the local health department about any subsequent lab-confirmed cases in the worksite at issue.
According to AB 685, the California State Department of Public Health must collect the coronavirus-related information reported to local health departments and make it public and searchable on its website.
Enforcing AB 685
AB 685 expands the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s authority to enforce COVID-19 safety standards through immediate worksite closures and citations, sidestepping typical notice and hearing requirements. In addition, employees who believe they have been retaliated against for reporting coronavirus exposure may file a complaint under California Labor Code Section 98.6.