California will keep workplace pandemic rules through 2022
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California workplace regulators on Thursday extended mandatory pay for workers affected by the coronavirus through the end of 2022, acting more than two months after state lawmakers restored similar benefits through September. The decision pitted labor against management as the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board extended mandatory pay for workers affected by the coronavirus through Thursday. This was more than two months after state lawmakers restored similar benefits in September.
” “I don’t think that we’re done yet with this,” board chairman David Thomas stated about the pandemic.
“There’s going to be a surge in a week or so,” Thomas added. “This is the best … protection we have.”
Unlike members of the public who can choose their own risk tolerance, Stock said, “people who are in the workplace … have no choice but to be there.”
Management representative Kate Crawford said the rules have caused confusion as she cast the only “no” in a 6-1 vote.
Keeping what is known as “exclusion pay” for workers who are sent home due to the coronavirus is both costly and confusing, particularly since the Legislature recently approved COVID-19 sick leave, said Rob Moutrie, a policy advocate with the California Chamber of Commerce,
Small businesses have particularly struggled with the obligation, Moutrie said. The Cal/OSHA rule applies in almost every workplace in the state, covering workers in offices, factories and retail businesses, while the state sick leave law applies only to companies with 26 or more employees. The debate is arising as the highly transmissible variant BA.2 emerges in California and the U.S., potentially threatening a new wave infection.
The state’s case rates have increased by one-third, and test positivity has more than doubled since March. Hospitalizations and intensive-care patients are still at or near their lowest levels since the pandemic. But the state’s models predict hospitalizations will increase from fewer than 1,000 now to nearly 1,400 in another month, while ICU admissions will begin to climb in early May.
Republican state lawmakers hailed the cancelation, citing repeated problems reported at the facility, including testing delays and quality control.
“This laboratory failed to serve Californians and the state delayed accountability for several months,” Scott Wilk, Senate Republican Leader, stated. State health officials stated Thursday that they now rely more on a new form of testing and efforts to link positive test results with immediate treatment. But they said the state will maintain the ability to test up to 500,000 people a day through a network of labs as part of the state’s rapid response plan to future coronavirus outbreaks. Los Angeles County announced Thursday that it will continue to require masks for travelers on public transit and inside indoor transportation hubs. This includes Los Angeles International, bus terminals and train stations.
Also Thursday, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer and L.A. County District Attorney George Gascon announced two settlements totaling nearly $26.5 million related to allegations of fake COVID-19 testing and false advertising by Venice, California, based Sameday Technologies, doing business as Sameday Health, which operates 55 testing locations nationwide.
Sameday Health stated that the problems occurred “in the chaos of massive spikes in demand for services” during the pandemic. However, it claimed that it has since fixed the problem. The new workplace regulation requires employers that workers continue to be paid wages and retain their seniority, as long as they are unable to work due to a coronavirus infection or exposure. Exceptions may apply if the employer can prove that the close contact was not work-related.
“It is important that employees who are COVID-19 cases do not come to work,” Cal/OSHA said.
The state’s sick leave law is different in that it allows employees to take up to one week off paid time off if they have the coronavirus, or care for a sick family member. If they or their family members are positive, they can get a second week of paid time off.
There is a troubling provision in Cal/OSHA’s revised paid leave rules that isn’t in current regulations, according to Mitch Steiger, a legislative advocate from the California Labor Federation.
Currently, an employee who has had close contact with an infected worker is also sent home, with pay. The revised rules allow them to keep their jobs until they are positive.
” The employer could make that person stay at work and interact, with others, and people with immunocompromised patients, until the person tests positive,” Steiger stated before the board’s decision.
” The more we walk that back the more we allow the virus to spread,” Steiger stated.
Agribusiness representatives objected that the workplace rules give employers two choices when dealing with an outbreak of three or more coronavirus cases if an employee comes in close contact. If the employee refuses to test positive, they will be paid a week’s pay or must test negative.
” You’re encouraging people not to get tested,” Michael Miiller (government relations director for the California Association of Winegrape Growers) told the board.
Associated Press Writer Stefanie Dazio contributed to this story from Los Angeles.
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