Fully vaccinated people will be able to ditch face masks in most workplace situations under relaxed COVID-19 rules approved Thursday by a state regulatory panel and immediately put into effect through an executive order from Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The workplace rules approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board mostly align with regulations that took effect this week for the general public. They allow vaccinated workers to shed face masks in most settings except those required by state regulations — such as on public transit or in airports — while also eliminating physical distancing requirements.
The rules require employers to verify the vaccination status of workers before allowing them to work mask-less, but employees will be allowed to simply “self-attest” that they are vaccinated, without providing written proof. Unvaccinated workers must continue to wear face masks in the workplace, unless they are alone in a room or vehicle.
Ordinarily, the board’s approval of the new rules would be forwarded to a state administrative law branch for legal review and final approval, meaning the rules wouldn’t take effect for another 10 days. But Gov. Gavin Newsom — following through on remarks he made earlier this week — signed an executive order moments after the board’s vote, allowing the regulations to take effect immediately.
The Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board had gone back-and- forth on what rules should be in place at California workplaces as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes. While the final decision was still pending, mask-wearing remained mandatory at worksites this week despite the statewide easing of masking rules on Tuesday.
The board earlier this month approved recommended rule changes that would have continued to require even vaccinated workers to wear 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 As a result, the board rescinded its vote and agreed to consider new rules that more closely align with the state’s rules for the general public.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 approved those new rules, which generally state:
— 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.