close up view of a vaccine vial
Photo by Artem Podrez

AB 685 prescribes notice requirements on employers in the event of a COVID-19 exposure in the workplace, enhances reporting requirements to local health authorities in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak, and expands the Division of Occupational Safety and Health of California’s (Cal/OSHA) authority to shut down worksites deemed to be an “imminent hazard” due to COVID-19 and issue “serious violation” citations.

Under AB 685, private and public employers who receive notice of a potential exposure to COVID-19 must do the following within one business day:

  • Provide written notice to all employees, and the employers of subcontracted employees, who were on the premises at the same worksite as the “qualifying individual”2 within the infectious period that they may have been exposed to COVID-19.
  • Provide written notice to the exclusive representative (union), if any, of the employees above.
  • Provide all employees who may have been exposed and their exclusive representative, if any, with information regarding COVID-19-related benefits to which they may be entitled, including but not limited to worker’s compensation, COVID-19-related leave, and paid sick leave, as well as the employer’s anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation policies.
  • Provide notice to all employees, the employers of subcontracted employees, and the exclusive representative, if any, of the disinfection and safety plan that the employer plans to implement and complete, per CDC guidelines.

The written notice provided to employees may include, but is not limited to, personal service, email or text message if it can reasonably be anticipated to be received by the employee within one business day of sending and shall be in both English and the language understood by the majority of the employees.

AB 685 also imposes reporting obligations on employers who are notified of a COVID-19 outbreak, as defined by the CA Department of Public Health. Within 48 hours of learning of the outbreak, employers must notify the local public health agency in the jurisdiction of the worksite of the names, number, occupation and worksite of qualifying individuals, as well as the employer’s business address and NAICS code of the worksite where the qualifying individuals worked. Following the reporting of an outbreak, the employer must continue to give notice to the local health department of any subsequent laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the worksite.

The new law also adds a section to the Labor Code which specifically provides that Cal/OSHA can shut down or prohibit operations at a worksite when, in the opinion of Cal/OSHA, a worksite or operation “exposes workers to the risk of infection” of COVID-19 so as to constitute an imminent hazard. In addition, it eliminates the requirement that Cal/OSHA provide to the employer its notice of intent (1BY) to issue a “serious violation” citation for COVID-19 related hazards. This means that employers no longer have a “15-day window” to respond to the notice with evidence to support their defense before a citation can be issued. This provision of the bill will expire on January 1, 2023.

This bill amends sections 6325 and 6432 of the Labor Code and adds section 6409.6 to the Labor Code.