Quick Overview of Changes to COVID-19 Emergency Standard

I read that the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board adopted a revised version of the Emergency Temporary Standard for employee safety regarding the hazards related to COVID-19. As an employer with a small but diverse operation and workforce, how are these new requirements going to affect my operations?

On June 17, 2021, after two previous attempts and hours of testimony, the Standards Board adopted revisions to the Emergency Temporary Standard. The proposed revisions were made to reflect the availability of vaccines to limit the workplace transmission of COVID-19; to revise requirements for face coverings in light of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and California Department of Public Health (CDPH) recommendations; and to provide options for employers to transition from physical distancing and face masking to more normal operations.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed and issued Executive Order N-09-21 which makes the revised Emergency Temporary Standard effective on June 17, 2021.


The following is a brief summary of some of the revisions:

• Fully vaccinated employees do not need to be tested or excluded from work after close contact with someone who has COVID-19 unless they have COVID-19 symptoms.

• Fully vaccinated employees do not need to wear face coverings except for certain situations, outbreaks, or where CDPH requires mask wearing.

• Masks are not required to be worn outside, including by those persons not vaccinated.

• Physical distancing has been eliminated except where the employer determines there is a hazard.

• Employees not vaccinated may request respirators for voluntary use at no cost to them.

• Employers must maintain a record of employees’ vaccination status.

Unvaccinated Employees

As noted, the employer is to maintain a supply of “respirators” (N95 face masks or equivalent) as necessary to provide masks to those unvaccinated employees who wish to wear a mask and request one.

Unvaccinated employees are still required to wear a mask in certain indoor locations or in vehicles where there are other employees. There are exceptions to this requirement, however. The most common are:

• When alone in a room or vehicle;

• When eating or drinking;

• When an accommodation is required;

• When the job duties make a face covering infeasible or create a hazard.

There also were revisions to the housing and transportation portions of the Emergency Temporary Standard.

More Information

For more information about the revisions to the Emergency Temporary Standard visit the FAQ web page at www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/coronavirus/Revisions-FAQ.html and see the news release at the California Department of Industrial Relations web page at dir.ca.gov/DIRNews/2021/2021-62.html.

Experts on The Workplace June 23 podcast from the California Chamber of Commerce discuss the revisions as well.

Column based on questions asked by callers on the Labor Law Helpline, a service to California Chamber of Commerce preferred and executive members. For expert explanations of labor laws and Cal/OSHA regulations, not legal counsel for specific situations, call (800) 348-2262 or submit your question at www.hrcalifornia.com.

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Mel Davis joined the CalChamber in 2000 as a workplace safety expert specializing in Cal/OSHA and safety-related matters. He worked for Cal/OSHA for more than 23 years as a principal safety engineer and construction safety engineer. His responsibilities included managing the technical staff responsible for developing and revising California safety and health regulations, evaluating requests for variances from regulations, and conducting complaint and accident investigations at all types of construction sites.