CA won’t require COVID vaccines for private workers, for now

A Cal-OSHA board of directors stops requiring workers at large California companies to be vaccinated or regularly tested for the coronavirus, citing the recent court ruling temporarily blocking a similar proposed federal mandate.

The board had planned to adopt the requirement at its meeting on Thursday. Because California has its own Department of Occupational Safety and Health, it could have had its own mandate regardless of the court ruling, as long as it was as strict or stricter than federal regulations.

However, the council decided to wait and see how the legal battle over the proposed federal mandate unfolds. On November 12, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals suspended the federal mandate, with some experts predicting that it will ultimately be considered by the United States Supreme Court.

“Federal OSHA has said it will not require states that administer their own occupational safety and health programs, such as California, to submit notices of intent (to adopt the federal (standard)) while the stay is in effect, ”the State Department. of Industrial Relations, a parent agency of Cal-OSHA, said in a statement. “Cal / OSHA and the Occupational Safety & Health Standards Board will follow these guidelines from the US Department of Labor and will take no further action to implement the federal (standard). ”

The proposed mandate would have meant that workers who work for companies with 100 or more employees would have to be fully vaccinated or subjected to a face covering and at least weekly testing.

California’s COVID Workplace Rule

Meanwhile, California’s COVID emergency workplace rule remains in effect. Among other provisions, it requires employers to offer free tests to workers who may have been exposed to the coronavirus on construction sites.

The board is expected to update the rule at its December meeting.

The proposed revisions include offering free testing to exposed workers even if they are fully vaccinated and have no symptoms. Fully vaccinated asymptomatic workers exposed to the coronavirus must also wear face coverings in their workplace for 14 days and take a COVID test three to five days after their last exposure.

The council can then finalize the rule early next year, creating a “permanent” settlement that would last for two years.

Representatives of the business groups have asked the board not to create a permanent COVID rule in the workplace, instead asking it to simply apply guidelines issued by the California Department of Public Health. Some have referred to the Cal-OSHA meetings in June, during a series of marathon meetings to determine whether vaccinated Californians should wear face masks in their workplaces.

“We urge the Council to consider and recognize the difficulties it has encountered, despite its diligence and best efforts, in attempting to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic through an (emergency temporary standard) which has proved to be captive of a rule-making process. it’s far too rigid and time-consuming to be up-to-date and effective, ”Western Steel Council executive director Greg McClelland wrote to the Cal-OSHA board of directors.

Worker advocacy groups have called for an even stricter COVID workplace rule, for example defining outbreaks as having three or more cases at a site. The current rule defines outbreaks as three or more cases among workers.

“Leaving aside the positive cases of non-employees, this language severely limits the protection of workers,” said AnaStacia Nicol Wright, lawyer at Worksafe.

Mitch Steiger, a California Labor Federation legislative advocate, asked the council to retain a provision specifying that companies must continue to pay and keep workers who self-quarantine due to their exposure to COVID-19.

Not having such a provision “will encourage workers not to report symptoms, hoping it is flu and get them to go to work sick,” he told the board. .

The next council meeting is scheduled for December 16 at 10 a.m.

This story was originally published November 18, 2021 14:52.

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Jeong Park joined the Capitol Bureau of the Sacramento Bee in 2020 as part of the newspaper’s community-funded Equity Lab. It covers economic inequalities, focusing on how state policies affect workers. Before joining the Bee, he worked as a city reporter for the Orange County Register.

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