Almost three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, federal and state regulators are taking steps to prepare for a longer term response to COVID-19. Here are five developments to keep in mind:
1. The Definitions of “Close Contact” and “Infectious Period” Have Changed.
California Department of Public Health (“CDPH”) Director Tomás J. Aragón issued a State Public Health Officer order that changed the definitions of both “close contact” and “infectious period” as of October 14, 2022. The new “close contact” definition means that everyone in a smaller space (400,000 cubic feet or less) who shares indoor airspace for a cumulative total of 15 minutes during an infectious period is considered a “close contact,” even if they were not within six feet of the infected employee. For spaces greater than 400,000 cubic feet, the old definition of being within 6 feet for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more in a 24-hour period still applies. The new “infectious period” definition is less stringent, and may end after five days, in some circumstances. The new definitions are here.
2. Employers Must Continue to Provide COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave through December 31, 2022.
A new wave of infections may be coming in late fall, due to low booster rates and following the wave of infection in Europe. Employers should keep in mind that pursuant to AB-152, public and private employers of 26 or more employees must provide COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave through December 31, 2022. Previously, the expiration date was September 30, 2022. The new law does not increase the number of hours of leave that are available. Details of the COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave requirements are located here.
AB-152 also established establishes the California Small Business and Nonprofit COVID-19 Relief Grant Program to provide small businesses and nonprofits with 26 to 49 employees with grants of up to $50,000 for actual costs incurred for COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave.
3. COVID-19 General Exposure Notification Requirements Continue Through January 1, 2024.
Currently, California public and private employers must notify employees within one business day if they have been exposed to COVID-19. Under recently enacted AB-2693, the end of this requirement was extended from January 1, 2023 to January 1, 2024. In addition, the new law makes it easier to notify employees of exposure, by permitting an employer to instead post the information in a prominent place and on any existing employee portal for notices.
The notice must remain posted for at least 15 calendar days and include information including (1) the dates the employee or subcontracted employee was on the worksite; (2) the location of the exposures; (3) contact information for employees to receive information on COVID-19 related benefits to which exposed employees may be entitled; and (4) contact information to receive the cleaning and disinfection plan. The notice must be in English and the language understood by the majority of employees. Employers must retain for three years a log of the dates the notice was posted at each worksite.
4. The COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards Will Likely Be Replaced by a “Non-Emergency” COVID-19 Prevention Regulation.
Since November 2020, California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (“Cal/OSHA”) has issued a series of COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (“ETS”), the latest which is expected to expire on December 31, 2022.
Cal/OSHA has proposed new Non-Emergency COVID-19 Prevention Standards here. However, even if the Cal/OSHA Standards Board approves the new nonemergency standard on their next meeting, the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) will still need to review the standard and file it with the Secretary of State before it can take effect. This means the current ETS could remain in effect past the December 31st expiration date while the OAL reviews and adopts the new standard.
5. Federal and State COVID-19 State of Emergency Orders Are Ending.
With low reported COVID-19 infection rates, on October 17, 2022, Governor Newsom declared that California’s COVID-19 state of emergency will end on February 28, 2023. The federal COVID-19 emergency orders are currently set to expire January 11, 2023. These changes, and decreased federal funding, will likely mean increased costs for employees for vaccinations, testing, and treatment in 2023.
As always, please reach out to your employment counsel at Meyers Nave if you have any questions, concerns, needs for clarification or if you would like further assistance.