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When the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in the United States, we knew that our lives wouldn’t be the same. The virus quickly spread through the population of California, and the state provided some of the strictest mandates in the nation. Now, over a year later, California passed AB 685, a bill that requires employers to notify their employees and unions if there is potential COVID-19 exposure in the workplace. While the idea has been in practice throughout the country, this is the first time it’s been codified into law. So what are the ramifications for California employers?

Aspects of Notification

While it has generally been considered a good policy to inform employees of potential COVID-19 exposure, it had not yet been made a requirement. California changes that requiring certain aspects of notification to be met. Now, California employers need to notify employees and subcontractors who were on-site during the period when exposure occurred. However, the notice should not include the identity of the person who may have transmitted the virus and cause the exposure.

Time Frame

The law does indicate that adherence to an infectious period must be followed, but it’s difficult to determine what’s meant by this. The California Department of Public Health indicates that the infectious period is up to 10 days after the onset of symptoms; however, the CDC advises that an infected person can begin spreading the virus 2 days before they develop symptoms or test positive. Due to this uncertainty, when an employee notifies an employer when symptoms begin and quarantines, the company should consider the infectious period 2 days prior and notify employees and subcontractors accordingly. In California, this notification also pertains to any unions involved in the workplace.

Benefits Available

California also requires that employers notify their team of any benefits they qualify for as a direct result of being affected by COVID-19. This may include workers’ compensation, medical leave related to COVID-19, company sick leave or paid sick leave, and any anti-retaliation or anti-discrimination policies. If the workers are in a union, their representatives also need to be notified of these programs.

Public Health Notifications

The law also indicates that employers need to report these incidents to their local public health authority within 48 hours of a COVID-19 outbreak. The California Department of Public Health defines an outbreak as three or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 among workers who live in separate households within 2 weeks. Employers must provide the number of individuals, their names, occupations, and worksites. They must also provide the company business address and the NAICS code for the worksite. Employers must continue to report additional cases.

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