California Again Relaxes Face Covering Rules, Updates Workplace Safety Rules

Following the universal indoor face covering requirement’s expiration and the state’s SMARTER plan unveiling, California took another step forward in its efforts to move past the pandemic — by relaxing its face covering rules for unvaccinated individuals beginning March 1, 2022, and in schools starting March 12, 2022.

In addition to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) updating its face covering guidance, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Executive Order N-5-22, which updates the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to align with the new CDPH guidance.

You’ll recall that, aside from the two months of universal indoor masking over the winter, previous California Department of Public Health (CDPH) guidance and the ETS required unvaccinated individuals to continue wearing face coverings indoors but allowed vaccinated individuals to go without them in most indoor settings.

Under the updated CDPH guidance and the ETS as modified by the new Executive Order, effective March 1, 2022, unvaccinated individuals, including employees in the workplace, are no longer required to wear face coverings indoors, though CDPH still strongly recommends that all persons, regardless of vaccination status, continue to mask while indoors.

Consistent with CDC recommendations, CDPH will maintain universal masking requirements in specified high-risk settings, including:

  • On public transit (such as airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-shares) and in transportation hubs (such as airports, bus terminals, marinas, train stations, seaports or other ports, subway stations, or any other areas that provide transportation).
  • Indoors in K-12 schools, childcare settings (through March 11, 2022).
  • Emergency shelters and cooling and heating centers.
  • Health care settings.
  • State and local correctional facilities and detention centers.
  • Homeless shelters.
  • Long-term care settings, and adult and senior care facilities.

While the governor’s Executive Order suspends the main ETS rule regarding unvaccinated workers wearing face coverings (specifically Section 3205(c)(6)(A)), it doesn’t change any other rules in the ETS. For example, employers must still provide face coverings to employees who request them. Employers must also ensure face coverings are worn when there are COVID-19 outbreaks, when screening employees for symptoms indoors, and any other time the ETS requires them.

Additionally, the Executive Order doesn’t change employers’ obligations with respect to county or local government obligations, which may go beyond state requirements. Employers may also voluntarily maintain more stringent face covering requirements in the workplace.

The ETS was scheduled to expire on April 14, 2022; however, the new Executive Order extends the ETS an additional 21 days, to May 5, 2022, to ensure the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board has time to review the new guidance in anticipation of the next readoption of the ETS.

James W. Ward, J.D.; Employment Law Subject Matter Expert/Legal Writer and Editor

CalChamber members can read more about the COVID-19 emergency temporary standard in IIPP and COVID-19 in the HR Library. Not a member? See how CalChamber can help you.

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