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Changes to Cal/OSHA COVID Rules Take Effect Jan. 14

A heads-up for California employers: Cal/OSHA’s new COVID-19 workplace safety rules are changing on Jan. 14. 

One of the biggest changes ushered in by the new rules will govern how employees that have been exposed to someone in the workplace who has COVID-19 get their testing.  

Under the new rules, employees must get a test in a health care setting or clinic that is sent to a lab, or take a self-administered test in front of a supervisor or a health care representative. Tests that are self-administered and self-read (like those taken at home) are no longer acceptable under the new rules.  

Employers can still offer self-read, self-administered COVID-19 tests to workers, but for those that need to take a test after an exposure they must adhere to the new testing rules.  

These changes are part of revisions to the COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard, which is being extended to April 20.  

Besides the new testing requirements, the extended rules make some other changes to the ETS. As the rules take effect, here’s what employers need to know:  

Testing — Under the amended rules, employers must provide COVID-19 testing to all employees (including fully vaccinated, asymptomatic staff) who have come into close contact with a COVID-19 positive individual or in an outbreak setting. 

Also, employers must make COVID-19 testing available at no cost, during paid time, to all employees who have had close contact or during an outbreak. 

Masks — The rules largely follow orders by the California Department of Public Health, which currently requires employees to wear face coverings while indoors.  

The new rules define face coverings as including: 

  • Surgical masks (including N95 or KN95 masks),  
  • Medical procedure masks,  
  • Respirators worn voluntarily, or  
  • Masks made of tightly woven fabric or non-woven material of at least two layers (fabric masks cannot let light pass through when held up to a light source). 

Exclusion from work — The renewed ETS keeps in place rules requiring employers to exclude employees who are positive for COVID-19 until return-to-work requirements are met.  

Employers also must exclude employees who have had close contact with a positive individual, unless the employee is fully vaccinated and asymptomatic. 

Also, fully vaccinated employees who exhibit no symptoms after close contact with a COVID-positive individual do not need to be excluded from the workplace, but starting Jan. 14 they must wear a face covering and maintain social distance for 14 days while at work.  

The takeaway

As COVID-19 is surging right now, it’s important that California employers follow the standards put in place by Cal/OSHA in order to avoid any penalties or fines. It’s also the best way to continue protecting employees that are coming to work rather than telecommuting.

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