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California Employees: Keep Masks Handy Past June 15. What You Need To Know About The New Rules

A checkout lane at a grocery store in in Little Tokyo has food items, including a can, on the conveyer as a cashier works the check out.
An employee scans items behind a protective shield at a grocery store in in Little Tokyo.
(Chava Sanchez/ LAist)
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California is set to roll back most of its coronavirus rules, including the public mask mandate on June 15. But it looks like many of us will keep wearing them past that date — at work.

That’s because the board of California’s workplace safety agency, better known as Cal/OSHA, voted Thursday night to relax some of the emergency workplace rules that have been in place since last fall, but kept a mask mandate as the default in most situations.

We’re trying to open up, and we’re also trying to protect the people that are vulnerable.
— David Thomas, Cal/OSHA

It may sound counterintuitive, but board staff said the rules have been reviewed and were supported by the California Department of Public Health.

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Here are the highlights:

  • Workers can remove masks if everyone in the room is fully vaccinated and doesn’t have COVID-19 symptoms. (A person becomes fully vaccinated 14 days after their final vaccine dose.) The employer must have “documented proof” of the vaccination.
  • Masks would be required for all employees if anyone in the room is not fully vaccinated. At a restaurant, a patron could be unmasked but the server would be masked. (Businesses will still be able to require all customers to be masked.)
  • Employees who can't wear face coverings due to medical conditions, mental health conditions or disabilities, or during tasks that cannot be performed while wearing a face covering, would need to be tested for COVID-19 weekly during work hours at no cost to the employee.
  • Until July 31, employees in indoor settings or outdoor mega events with more than 10,000 people must continue to physically distance themselves from others by at least six feet or be given the option to wear respirators, such as N95 masks that must be provided by the employer.

Making masking dependent on vaccination is tricky. Employers will need to maintain documentation on the vaccination status of each worker, but it’s unclear what kind of proof they’ll need.

State officials have said numerous times that they will not create a vaccine passport system, leaving many in the business community to question during the Thursday meeting’s public comment period how they can collect vaccination information without running afoul of state or federal laws.

Physical distancing will remain in effect until the end of July in most workplaces, including mega events with more than 10,000 people, and at all indoor workplaces.

On July 31, the physical distancing requirement changes. If a workplace has unvaccinated employees, an employer would have a choice under the new rules: require everyone to be masked and physically distanced, or require unvaccinated employees to wear a respirator such as an N95 and others to wear at least a cloth face covering.

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Cal/OSHA standards board chair David Thomas said the new rules aren’t perfect, but the board will work on more detailed regulations at a later date. No clear timeline for those updates was given.

“We’re trying to open up, and we’re also trying to protect the people that are vulnerable and I think we can do both and I think this is a step in that direction,” Thomas said.

The rules will now be sent to the state Office of Administrative Law, which will have 10 days to review them. If they are approved, they’ll go into effect on June 15.