The fate of COVID-19 mask-wearing requirements at statewide workplaces will be in the hands of a state regulatory panel Thursday, as it considers rule changes that would largely align with general California guidelines and allow vaccinated workers to shed their face coverings.
The rules would require employers to verify the vaccination status of workers before allowing them to work mask-less, but employees would be allowed to simply “self-attest” that they are vaccinated.
With California lifting most COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday, the issue of mask-wearing in workplaces has remained in limbo, pending Thursday’s meeting of the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board.
The board has gone back-and-forth on what rules should be in place at California workplaces. With a final decision still pending, mask-wearing has remained mandatory at worksites despite the statewide easing of rules on face coverings.
The board earlier this month approved recommended rule changes that would have continued to require even vaccinated workers to continue wearing masks if they were in a room with an unvaccinated worker. Those rules would have allowed vaccinated workers to remove their masks only if they were alone in a room or working only with other vaccinated workers.
The decision prompted an outcry because the proposed rules conflicted with both state and federal guidance on mask-wearing. Even the state health officer objected. As a result, the board rescinded its vote and agreed to consider new rules that more closely align with the state’s rules for the general public.
The board on Thursday will consider the new proposed rules. Under the new proposal:
— Employers may allow vaccinated employees to work without face coverings indoors, but they must document workers’ vaccination status. That documentation process allows workers to either show written proof of vaccination, such as a CDC vaccine card, or to “self-attest’ that they are vaccinated without providing documentation.
— Workers can decline to state if they are vaccinated or not. However, they will be treated as if they are unvaccinated.
— Unvaccinated workers must wear masks indoors, unless alone in a room or vehicle. Employers must make approved respirators, such as an N95 mask, available for unvaccinated workers if they request them.
— No face coverings are required outdoors unless there is an outbreak.
— If there is a COVID outbreak, masks will be mandated for all workers indoors, and outdoors if six-foot physical distancing can’t be maintained.
— No physical distancing or barriers between workers are required, regardless of employees’ vaccination status, although employers can re-evaluate the need if an outbreak occurs. Distancing and barriers will be mandated if a “major outbreak” of 20 or more cases occurs.
— Fully vaccinated workers with no COVID symptoms do not need to be tested or quarantined after they are exposed to the virus.
— Employees cannot face retaliation for wearing a mask, even if they are not required to do so.
If the board approves the proposed rules on Thursday, the decision would normally forwarded to a state administrative law branch for legal review and final approval, meaning the rules would likely not take effect until the end of June.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said this week, however, that he is prepared to issue an executive order that would immediately implement the board’s decision, to eliminate the “gap” in mask regulation.