Attorney General Becerra Urges Adoption of Emergency Workplace Standard to Help Safeguard Employees from COVID-19 in California
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today sent a letter of support urging the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board to adopt an emergency temporary standard aimed at protecting workers across California from exposure to COVID-19. The proposed regulation, which would be promulgated by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, builds on COVID-19 guidance previously issued by several California agencies and provides a clear legal framework for employers to implement effective workplace safety measures. With coronavirus cases rising in California and across the country, the time is now to establish an enforceable legal standard applicable to workplaces to directly and comprehensively protect workers, their families, and the public at large.
“As we enter the holiday season and are seeing a disturbing increase in COVID-19 cases in California and across the country, there is no room for complacency,” said Attorney General Becerra. “We have to stay vigilant to protect our essential workers and our communities across the state. This temporary emergency standard will help clarify what needs to be done to protect workers and ensure that local authorities have the tools they need to take action. It also requires employers to allow for employee participation in evaluating and correcting COVID-19 exposure hazards. The pandemic isn’t over and it’s not going away any time soon. We must all work together to improve worker health and safety in our state during this crisis. The more we work together, the faster we’ll be able to slow transmission and move to rebuilding our economy. Let’s get the job done.”
As the weather turns cold, a renewed surge of COVID-19 cases is sweeping across the nation. Communities of color have been particularly vulnerable to workplace transmission due to their disproportionate representation among essential workers. Their health and well-being must not be sacrificed as we battle this pandemic. Already, more than 1 million Californians are known to have been infected by the coronavirus. California has a preciously short window of opportunity to put the necessary legal structures in place to protect our communities. The proposed emergency regulation directly applies our current knowledge about how COVID-19 spreads and the best practices in workplaces to empower workers and worker advocates and to require essential measures aimed at protecting all Californians.
The proposed regulation sets clear and enforceable standards for the prevention of COVID-19, for handling a small number of COVID-19 cases, and for the management of major outbreaks in the workplace. Among other things, the standard requires employers to:
- Conduct hazard assessments and create a written COVID-19 prevention program, allowing for employee participation;
- Correct COVID-19-related hazards in the workplace;
- Identify and notify all workers exposed to COVID-19-positive individuals;
- Provide testing free of charge to employees in the event of COVID-19-positive cases in the workplace;
- Train employees on COVID-19 prevention;
- Mandate and enforce the wearing of face coverings in the workplace;
- Provide personal protective equipment free of charge where needed; and
- Implement safety measures in employer-provided housing and transportation.
Attorney General Becerra is committed to protecting hardworking Americans and their families in California and across the country. Last month, the Attorney General filed a comment letter pushing back on a federal attempt to upend employee status protections for workers across the country. In August, the California Department of Justice assisted Merced County in its efforts to contain a coronavirus outbreak at a Foster Farms facility in Livingston, California. In June, the Attorney General urged Walmart to step up efforts to protect workers and the public during COVID-19. In May, he slammed the President’s reckless executive order forcing meat and poultry processing plant employees to work without adequate protections during the current public health crisis. In March, Attorney General Becerra called on Amazon and Whole Foods to step up efforts to protect workers by providing adequate paid sick leave. The Attorney General also filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration's efforts to preempt state law and undermine worker protections with regards to meal and rest breaks. More information on the California Department of Justice’s efforts to protect the public during COVID-19 is available on the Attorney General’s website at https://oag.ca.gov/consumers/COVID-19.
A copy of today’s letter to the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board is available here.