It shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the first things to change in California during 2021 is how workplaces report COVID-19 outbreaks.
Way back in the middle of September 2020, California’s governor signed off on a law, AB 685, that tweaks the way workplaces notify their employees and customers about COVID-19. The law officially went into effect on January 1, 2021.
The new law requires that employers must provide a written alert to everyone involved in the business, including sub-contractors, whenever the employer learns that there was a chance of COVID-19 exposure. The written notification has to be drafted and sent to all pertinent parties within one business day of the positive test results. In addition to serving as an alert warning of possible exposure to the virus, the written notice should also include information about what benefits those who were exposed are entitled to and information about what the employer intends to do to clean the workplace and minimize the risk of future problems with COVID-19.
The most interesting thing about the new law is that the employer must make the written notification available for a full three years following the COVID-19 exposure.
The employer’s responsibilities don’t end after they’ve completed the written notification. That’s just the first step. If three (or more) employees test positive for COVID-19, it’s considered an outbreak. The next thing the employer must do is contact their local health agency. This contact must take place within 48 hours of the positive test. The information the public health department collects includes the names of the infected employees, their occupations, and the places where they worked.
What happens if an employer fails to go through with the protocol established by AB 685?
Well, that’s not entirely clear. The law does mention that the employer will receive a citation: “The division shall enforce paragraphs (1), (2), and (4) of subdivision (a) by the issuance of a citation alleging a violation of these paragraphs and a notice of civil penalty in a manner consistent with Section 6317.”
The problem is that no one knows exactly what the citation is or how it will impact the employer. It’s unclear if they will face a fine or lose their business license. When you read through the law, you do learn that if the Health Department issues a citation, the employer does have the right to a trial during which they’re allowed to argue their case.
This new 2021 law impacts all employers, no matter how many employees they hire.