New California Law Gives Workers New COVID-19 Protections
Blank Rome Partner Caroline Powell Donelan was interviewed on CapRadio, the NPR affiliate in Sacramento, on Monday, January 4, 2021. In her interview, Caroline talks with politics reporter Nicole Nixon about a new California law, AB 685, which took effect on January 1, and gives employees new COVID-19 protections. The interview transcript is available here and shared in full below.
6:40 a.m.: New California law gives workers new COVID-19 protections
California now has strict new rules meant to protect workers from contracting COVID-19 on the job under AB 685, a new state law which took effect Jan. 1.
If you can’t work remotely and have spent any time at work the past couple months, you may have received an email from HR telling you that a colleague tested positive for the coronavirus, or was exposed to someone with it.
Starting this year, employers will have to do that. The new law requires written notification of potential exposures in the workplace.
Labor attorney Caroline Donelan says employers have an ethical duty to keep their workers safe, and many have already been doing this.
"These processes are probably already in place for most employers. But now in addition to this ethical duty, they now have a legal duty too," Donelan said.
The law also requires companies to report outbreaks — defined as three or more cases at a jobsite — to their local public health department.
Donelan says workers who don’t feel they’re getting those protections have a few options. She says it’s a good idea to start by speaking with your employer first. But if that doesn’t change anything, head to Cal/OSHA’s website.
"They have a hotline to call if employees have questions on things like paid sick leave, retaliation protections," Donelan said. "And if they feel like they’ve gotten to the point where they want to file a complaint, that can be done completely online as well."
The last thing AB 685 does is give Cal/OSHA the authority to shut down work sites that aren’t following these new coronavirus rules. But Donelan says the agency is already overwhelmed, and how much it actually uses that power remains to be seen.