No More Masks At Work? California’s Rules Are On Track To Change

Mask-optional workplaces are almost here, as long as a proposal from California’s workplace safety agency gets final approval.

As the state moves toward lifting many COVID-19 pandemic restrictions June 15, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA, is proposing to loosen the emergency workplace rules it established late last year.

Among the proposed changes: Workers in indoor spaces could stop wearing face coverings, perhaps as soon as Tuesday of next week — though everyone present would have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and the employer would have to verify each worker’s vaccination status. Distancing requirements for workers also would be eased.

My colleagues Luke Money and Rong-Gong Lin II published a detailed breakdown of what you need to know about Cal/OSHA’s proposal. Here are some highlights, along with some additional updates:

Is this really going to happen?

The Cal/OSHA proposal got one crucial approval a few days ago. It’s still subject to review by the state Office of Administrative Law. But that office is expected to approve it, and new rules could go into effect as soon as June 15.

Under Cal/OSHA’s proposal, who could go without a mask while working indoors?

Most workers would be allowed to bare their noses and mouths if every other person in the room does not have COVID-19 symptoms and is fully vaccinated. If anyone present is not fully vaccinated, masks would still be mandated.

People are fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or the single shot of Johnson & Johnson‘s vaccine. To comply with the rules, employers will need to have their employees’ vaccine records on file.

Employees of retail stores, restaurants and other establishments where workers interact with the public would still need to wear masks. The rule change also would not affect employees in some other settings, such as hospitals.

What else does Cal/OSHA’s proposal cover?

The agency also recommends ending the requirement that employees remain distanced from others. That should kick in July 31, it suggests.

Until then, when dealing with employees who work inside or work at outdoor events of 10,000 people or more, employers will need to either continue distancing those workers or offer respirators such as N-95 masks.

Do vaccinated workers need to keep getting screened for COVID-19?

The state’s guidance just changed. On Monday, the California Department of Public Health said nonhealthcare workers who are fully vaccinated do not need to be screened for COVID-19.

In addition, the department said, fully vaccinated people don’t need to be tested after exposure to someone who has COVID-19 unless the fully vaccinated person is showing symptoms or working or living in a crowded environment.

Can some places keep stricter rules?

Yes, businesses and other employers can choose to require employees or customers to wear masks even after the state no longer mandates it.

Were some pandemic-era changes recently extended?

California’s COVID-19 state of emergency order — which gives Gov. Gavin Newsom and health officials broad authority to temporarily impose new rules and restrictions — will remain in place beyond June 15, Newsom said Friday.

California is also extending the ability of restaurants and bars to serve alcoholic drinks in outdoor dining areas, for delivery and to-go orders through the rest of the year.


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