California Employers Must Notify Their Employees about COVID-19 Exposure

Gusto Editors

On September 17th, 2020 California Governor Newson signed legislation (known as AB-685) that requires employers within the state to provide their employees with written notification if and when they have been exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace. 

Here’s what you need to know.

What does the AB-685 bill require?

This is a doozy so stay with us. 

The law requires that all California employers provide written notice to employees and employers of subcontracted employees who may have been exposed to COVID-19 because they were at the same “worksite” as a “qualifying individual” within the “infectious period.”

Let’s break this down.

According to the bill, a “worksite” is defined as “the building, store, facility, agricultural field, or any other location where a worker worked.”  

A “qualifying individual” is someone who has:

  • Been diagnosed with COVID-19 by a licensed healthcare provider or by a lab, or
  • Died due to COVID-19, or
  • Is subject to an isolation order from a public health official 

The “infectious period” … is a little hairy, as this varies person to person. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) states that the infectious period actually starts two days before symptoms appear and a person can remain infectious for up to 10 days. 

For example, your employee Annie started noticing symptoms on Friday, September 18; this means her infectious period is from Wednesday September 16 through Saturday September 26—no matter when she is diagnosed. 

Once Annie has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and meets the criteria for a qualifying individual, you are required to provide written notice to all employees and employers of subcontracted employees who shared her workspace within her infectious period. 

I heard that one of my employees has COVID-19, but I’m not sure this information is reliable

The bill is clear about where credible information comes from. If you have been informed that an employee has contracted COVID-19 in one of the following ways, it is considered credible:

  • You’ve been notified about COVID-19 contraction directly by the infected employee or by their emergency contact.
  • You’ve tested the employee for COVID-19 and received a positive result.
  • A subcontracted employer has made you aware that an employee is infected.
  • A public health official or licensed medical provider has informed you that your employee has been infected.

How should I notify my employees that they may have been exposed to COVID-19?

Use the channels you typically use to communicate with your employees, like email or text. Just be sure the notice reaches the employee within a day of being sent. 

When should I notify my employees that they may have been exposed to COVID-19?

Within one business day of when you first became aware. 

What should be included in the notice?

The notice should:

  • Make your employees aware of possible COVID-19 exposure 
  • Include any benefits that exposed employees are entitled to like leave or worker’s compensation
  • Include the disinfection and safety plans that are in place (or will be in place) 

Your notice should not name the employee who has been infected with COVID-19. 

When will this law go into effect?

Jan 1, 2021.

How do I protect my employees’ privacy while following this reporting requirement?

This is a tough one. The conditions created by the pandemic have prioritized public safety over privacy in California, which means that you are no longer required to get authorization from the infected employee to release this information. 

However, you are not permitted to name names—always keep the identity of the COVID-19 positive employee confidential.   

Am I required to report the incident to local health authorities?

If three or more of your employees—who live in different households—have been diagnosed with COVID-19 within a two week period, you must report this to your local public health department within 48 hours. 

Are there any exceptions?

Yes. Employees who—as a part of their job—care for patients or conduct COVID-19 screenings are exempt from this reporting requirement.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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