Cal/OSHA Emergency Temporary Standards to Protect Workers from COVID-19

Effective November 30th, 2020, these standards require employers to promote safety in the workplace, keep infected and exposed employees out of the workplace, and provide employees exposed at work with paid leave while they are not able to work.

What do the new standards require?

Current law already requires that employers address COVID-19 hazards and implement measures such as requiring face coverings and physical distancing. These new regulations require employers to have all employees maintain at least a 6 foot distance from one another, and if that is not feasible, provide higher level respiratory masks (such as a N95 or P-100). Employers must also eliminate hazards, provide COVID-19 training to employees, including explaining their rights to leave and pay, and provide testing to employees who are exposed to a COVID-19 case at work.

The standards also require employers to exclude employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who have had COVID-19 exposure. See the Department of Industrial Relations’ FAQ for how long an employee must be excluded. When an employee cannot work due to COVID-19 exposure at the workplace, the employer must hold their job, so that they can return to the same position once they are able to work. Their employer must also keep paying their wages and preserve their benefits. Employers can require employees to exhaust their paid sick leave or other benefits before paying them out of pocket. Exception: This is not applicable where an employer demonstrates that the employee’s exposure was not work related.

The standards also set out procedures for what employers must do when a worker has COVID-19 or there is an outbreak at work.

Who is covered?

These new standards apply to all workers in California with the following three exceptions: (1) employees who work alone in their workplace and who do not have contact with other people, (2) employees working from home, and (3) employees covered under Cal/OSHA’s Aerosol Transmissible Diseases standard (ATD). The ATD generally applies to health care facilities, services, or operations.

What responsibility does my employer have to tell me about a potential Covid-19 case?

Employers must notify employees of potential exposure to COVID-19 within one business day. Employers must explain how to report symptoms, that employees will not be retaliated against for reporting symptoms, and how employees can obtain testing for COVID-19 (at no cost to the employee). Employers must also identify potential COVID-19 hazards in the workplaces and the employer’s policies and procedures for addressing them.

What protections do I have if I have been potentially exposed at work?

Employers are required to exclude any worker with COVID-19 and all exposed employees from the workplace until they are no longer an infection risk.

In a non-outbreak setting, employers must notify all employees who may have had COVID-19 exposures within one business day.  They must also offer testing at no cost to the exposed employees during working hours. “Exposed” employees are those who have been within 6 feet of a COVID-19 case for a cumulative total of 15 minutes within any 24-hour period during the COVID-19 case’s “high risk exposure period.”

In an outbreak setting, (three or more COVID-19 cases in an “exposed workplace” within a 14-day period), employers must follow all of the non-outbreak procedures. Additionally, they must repeat the testing one week later and continue testing weekly until the workplace no longer qualifies as an outbreak.


Any unsafe COVID-19 practices should be reported to local Cal/OSHA District offices.

For the San Francisco District Office, contact:

Denis McComb
District Manager
455 Golden Gate Ave., Rm 9516
San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone:(415) 557-0100
[email protected]