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Updated CAL/OSHA Guidance on Masking and Social Distancing

As California employers prepare to reoccupy the workplace, the rules about basics like masking and social distancing can seem confusingly in flux – especially after the CDC last month advised fully-vaccinated Americans they could “resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart.”


In an effort to provide some clarity, the California Occupational Safety and Health (“Cal/OSHA”) Standards Board voted yesterday to pass revised rules related to COVID-19 restrictions in the workplace. Unfortunately, the rules are not a model of clarity, and they are still subject to review by the state Office of Administrative Law (“OAL”). There’s also talk of a future executive order by Governor Newsom to override the rules. Finally, most California counties and some municipalities have stricter rules about masking and distancing in workplaces, with which employers in those locations must comply.


For now, here’s a summary of the updated Cal/OSHA rules:


  • Employees do not have to wear masks if everyone in the office is fully vaccinated and does not have COVID-19 symptoms. However, masks are required if anyone in the room is not fully vaccinated.


  • Employees in places such as retail stores and restaurants, as well as others who interact with members of the public, will still need to mask up. Employees in some other settings, such as hospitals, will not be affected by the rule change.


  • The rules end the requirement of social distancing in the workplace starting July 31, 2021. Until then, employees in indoor settings or outdoor events of 10,000 or more people will need to continue social distancing practices or be offered respirators like N95 masks.


  • Starting July 31, employers must make respirators, like N95 masks, available for voluntary use by employees who are not fully vaccinated and work in indoor settings or outdoor settings with more than 10,000 people. Unvaccinated employees can still choose to wear a conventional mask.


A full copy of the rules can be found here:


Given the confusing and evolving rules, employers should be aware that they have autonomy to impose stricter rules related to masking and physical distancing until the dust settles. Even though governmental bodies are loosening COVID-19 restrictions, that doesn’t mean workplaces have to put their carefully curated return-to-office plans by the wayside. In fact, some employees might feel uncomfortable returning to an unmasked “normal” workplace after 15+ months of working at home. Employers are encouraged to think strategically about what COVID-19 policies and procedures make sense in light of their specific workplace dynamics.

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