Two weeks after Cal/OSHA voted and approved emergency COVID-19 regulations, Governor Newsom has issued an Executive Order (PDF) making changes. The changes are intended to relax certain rules to accommodate economic necessities within the confines of safety. They include a reduction in the mandatory quarantine periods, relaxed rules for migrant farm labor, and for retired employees who go back to work. There are also changes made to allow for extension of some tax returns, and appointments to administrative Boards.
The changes are made to align with the Center For Disease Control’s (CDC) guidelines for quarantine and similar guidelines issued by the California Department of Public Health.
Reduction of Quarantine Periods
The most important changes for employers include reducing the prescribed quarantine period for asymptomatic exposures from 14 days to 10 days. However, local county rules may keep the 14-day period in place in some instances. The Order also creates a 7-day quarantine period for some health care providers and first responders when there are critical staffing shortages.
The change is limited. The Executive Order and the CDPH guidelines amend quarantine only for asymptomatic close contacts (defined as individuals who came within six feet of an individual infected with COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period). These persons may discontinue quarantine 10 days following the date of last exposure with or without testing. The change is applicable whether the close contact was tested or not.
Where local health departments require longer quarantine times, the Executive Order and CDPH make clear the employer must comply with the longer quarantine requirements.
Many of those local health orders still reflect a 14-day quarantine period for COVID-19 exposures. Employers are advised to follow local health order mandates until local orders are amended to match the CDPH guidelines.
There is another narrow exception to the 14-day quarantine for health care providers and emergency responders’ personnel in limited circumstances.
During critical staffing shortages, when there are not enough staff to provide safe patient care, the following essential critical infrastructure workers may return to work after Day 7, if they have received a negative PCR test result from a specimen collected after Day 5:
- Exposed asymptomatic health care workers; and
- Exposed asymptomatic emergency response and social service workers who work face to face with clients in the child welfare system or in assisted living facilities.
All employees who return before Day 14 must:
- Wear face coverings at all times, maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others; and
- If eligible for return after Day 7, use surgical masks at all times at work, and use face coverings outside the home through Day 14 after the last exposure; and
- Self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms through Day 14 and, if symptoms develop, contact the local health department or their healthcare provider and get tested. If the former asymptomatic exposed employee tests positive, the quarantine requirements of a positive symptomatic COVID-19 case apply.
The emergency Cal/OSHA regulations mandates related to symptomatic COVID-19 cases remain in effect and are unchanged.
Employers are advised to revise their COVID-19 Prevention Programs to reflect the changes in quarantine requirements.
Migrant Farm Labor
The Executive Order allows owners of migrant farm labor centers to operate for more than 275 days in a calendar year and permits tenants in the migrant farm labor centers to occupy the center for more than 275 days a year. The Order suspends application of Health and Safety Code section 50710.1(c)(8), which limits operation and occupancy time, and suspends the statute’s requirements and procedures for requesting extensions of the operation and occupancy times.
The eligibility requirements for migrant worker housing have also been relaxed. Health and Safety Code section 50710.3 requiring migrant workers to have resided at least 50 miles outside the migrant farm labor center for at least 3 of the last 6 months to be eligible for housing is suspended, allowing the migrant worker to, in effect, shelter in place. Relaxing the operation and occupancy standards is intended to protect the health and safety of the migrant laborers occupying the centers.
Retired Public Employees
Governor Newsom also temporarily relaxed rules related to reinstatement and work hour limitations for retired public employees, when the local state or public agency hires a retired former employee to work in in a job that mitigates the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Government Code section 21221(h) retired public employees with specialized skills were eligible for rehire, without loss of retirement benefits, as long as they do not work more than a total of 960 hours in a year and only fill a vacancy once. These rules were in effect to prevent retired public employees from returning full time to public employment following retirement. These limitations have been removed so that retired employees with special skills can assist with COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
The Order also provides relief from interest and penalties to individuals and businesses impacted by COVID-19 and filing a tax return of less than $1,000,000 in taxes or fees. The Order allows the Department of Tax and Fee Administration, which administers California’s Revenue and Tax Code, to grant a three-month extension after the due date of a tax return or payment of a tax bill. The individual or business must request the extension but, in doing so, no penalties or interest will accrue. The relief set forth in the Order is applicable immediately and remains effective through April 30, 2021.
Appointment of Officials
Finally, the Executive Order extends the deadline specified in Government Code section 1774(c) for the Senate’s confirmation of an individual appointed by the Governor to any office specified in Welfare and Institutions Code section 1718(a) until April 1, 2021. These are commissioners on the Board of Juvenile Hearings.