Court upholds California’s COVID workplace protection rules

A state appeals court has upheld California’s workplace emergency rules for COVID-19, which require employers to have prevention programs, provide protective gear and grant time off paid to employees who have been exposed to the virus.

The regulations, issued in November 2020 by the state Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, were challenged by the Western Growers Association, other farm organizations and the California Business Roundtable, who argued that they were unnecessary and too cumbersome for employers.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman declined to block the regulations last February, saying, “Lives are at stake.” Upholding its decision, the San Francisco Court of Appeals for the First District said the state had many reasons to protect workers from exposure to the coronavirus.

By the end of 2020, the disease was spreading through workplaces, endangering employees as well as the general public, and demonstrating “the need for immediate action”, Judge Sandra Margulies said in the 3-0 ruling. She said the council had seen a particularly high risk of transmission among migrant farm workers, living in dormitory-type facilities provided by their employers.

Margulies said previous state workplace rules, in effect for the first eight months of the pandemic, did not require employers to provide protective gear or provide essential hygiene. She said the board, appointed by the governor, acted within “its area of ​​expertise” to determine the protections were inadequate.

The ruling was released Dec. 21 and certified by the court on Wednesday as binding precedent for lower courts in California. Opponents could seek reconsideration in the state Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court veered in the opposite direction on Thursday, voting 6-3 to block the Biden administration’s nationwide regulations ordering companies with 100 or more employees to require their workers to be vaccinated against the virus. coronavirus or wear masks and be tested weekly. The court said federal law does not allow the administration to impose such requirements on companies with a total of 84 million employees.

In a separate 5-4 ruling, the judges allowed the government to enforce a vaccination requirement for most healthcare workers.

The California regulations, currently scheduled to remain in effect until mid-April, apply to all employees except those who were already covered by special protection rules for particularly vulnerable worksites such as hospitals. , prisons and homeless shelters, and those who work from home.

The council required every employer to have a written coronavirus prevention program, including training, hazard identification, social distancing and the provision of masks and other protective equipment. Employees who have been exposed to the virus at work should be granted at least 10 days off, with pay and benefits.

Upholding the paid leave requirement, the tribunal said it encouraged employees to report any exposure to the disease rather than remain silent, “thus allowing employers to minimize possible additional exposures to other workers”.

The decision was welcomed by Stacey Leyton, a labor attorney who filed arguments in support of the state regulation.

“As we continue to face new phases of this public health crisis, preventing the spread in the workplace is essential to protect workers, their family members and the community as a whole,” said she declared.

Bob Egelko is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @BobEgelko

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