California Relaxes Mask Rules Again, Updates Workplace Safety Rules

California took another step forward this week in its efforts to move past the pandemic by relaxing its face covering rules for unvaccinated individuals beginning March 1, and in schools starting March 12.

This week’s actions followed the expiration of the universal indoor face covering requirement and the state’s unveiling of its SMARTER plan.

In addition to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) updating its face covering guidance, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Executive Order N-5-22, which updates the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to align with the new CDPH guidance.

Aside from the two months of universal indoor masking over the winter, previous CDPH guidance and the ETS required unvaccinated individuals to continue wearing face coverings indoors but allowed vaccinated individuals to go without them in most indoor settings.

Under the updated CDPH guidance and the ETS as modified by the new Executive Order, effective March 1, 2022, unvaccinated individuals, including employees in the workplace, are no longer required to wear face coverings indoors, although CDPH still strongly recommends that all persons, regardless of vaccination status, continue to mask while indoors.

Masks in High-Risk Settings

Consistent with recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), CDPH will maintain universal masking requirements in specified high-risk settings, including:

• On public transit (such as airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-shares) and in transportation hubs (such as airports, bus terminals, marinas, train stations, seaports or other ports, subway stations, or any other areas that provide transportation).

• Indoors in K–12 schools, child care settings (through March 11, 2022).

• Emergency shelters and cooling and heating centers.

• Health care settings.

• State and local correctional facilities and detention centers.

• Homeless shelters.

• Long-term care settings, and adult and senior care facilities.

What’s Not Changing

Although the Governor’s executive order suspends the main ETS rule regarding unvaccinated workers wearing face coverings (specifically Section 3205(c)(6)(A)), it doesn’t change any other rules in the ETS.

For example, employers still must provide face coverings to employees who request them. Employers also must ensure face coverings are worn when there are COVID-19 outbreaks, when screening employees for symptoms indoors, and any other time the ETS requires them.

In addition, the executive order doesn’t change employers’ obligations with respect to county or local government obligations, which may go beyond state requirements. Employers also may voluntarily maintain more stringent face covering requirements in the workplace.

The ETS was scheduled to expire on April 14, 2022; however, the new executive order extends the ETS an additional 21 days, to May 5, 2022, to ensure the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board has time to review the new guidance in anticipation of the next readoption of the ETS.

Staff Contact: James Ward

Previous articleLower Base Period Wages Can Affect Expected Disability Benefits
Next articleBill Proposes New Tax Despite Huge State Surplus
James W. Ward joined the CalChamber in June 2019 as an employment law subject matter expert/legal writer and editor. He enhances the ongoing efforts of the CalChamber legal affairs team to explain for nonlawyers how statutes, regulations and court cases affect California businesses and employers. Ward came to the CalChamber following his time as an associate attorney at Kronick Moskovitz Tiedemann & Girard of Sacramento, where he provided advice and counsel to public and private employers on labor and employment matters. He holds a B.A. in humanities, magna cum laude, and an M.A. in history from California State University, Sacramento. He earned his J.D. with great distinction from the McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific.