New OSHA Penalties Put Pressure on Employers

On February 28, 2022, California’s Department of Public Health (CDPH) lifted the provision that requires unvaccinated employees to wear masks indoors. Governor Newsom has also amended the Cal/OSHA Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS), eliminating masking rules relating to unvaccinated employees. These actions are in response to the CDC’s updated recommendations for masking indoors. 

The CDC has relaxed face-covering requirements for employees working indoors in low transmission areas. In places of high transmission, the CDC recommendation is to continue masking. They have created a tool to check COVID-19 transmission levels by county. The COVID-19 County Check allows you to search for your county. It then shares current transmission levels, as well as appropriate prevention steps.  

Employers should use the CDC’s tool to confirm their area’s transmission levels before loosening any current masking policy. Masks are still required in certain settings like public transit, emergency shelters, correctional facilities, long-term care facilities, and healthcare settings. Employees may also continue to wear a mask at their discretion. If exposed to COVID-19, showing symptoms, or with a positive COVID-19 test, employees must still wear a mask for ten days. This is in addition to self-isolation if the employee has a positive COVID-19 test or shows symptoms. 

Employers may choose to keep strict masking policies in place. There are some benefits to this choice, as masking is a known precaution against COVID-19. Opting to mandate masks in the workplace can reduce any time missed by employees during an outbreak, allowing for business continuity, better retention of employees, and reduced healthcare costs. However, there are compliance challenges. Employers will have to consider exemptions due to religious or medical reasons, which results in additional accommodation management. Employee resistance and morale issues may also deter employers from mandating masks. 

Not following CDC recommendations is risky for employers. OSHA’s “general duty clause” states that employers are responsible for providing a work environment free from hazards that may cause death or serious harm. Failure to follow recommended safety measures can result in a citation from OSHA or Cal/OSHA for California businesses. 

Emplicity recommends revisiting your masking policies and communicating any changes to your employees. Our exceptional Human Resource and Risk Management team can help position your business for success in this constant-evolving landscape.  

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About Emplicity:
Since 1995, Emplicity has provided a smarter, more secure, and integrated platform of employer services to its 300 business clients and their 8,500 employees. As a Professional Employer Organization, or PEO, the California-based HR outsourcing firm simplifies the compliance, administration, and support businesses need in the areas of employee benefits, payroll, and human resources technology.

NOTICE: Emplicity provides HR advice and recommendations. Information provided by Emplicity is not intended as a substitute for employment law counsel. At no time will Emplicity have the authority or right to make decisions on behalf of its clients.

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