What is an employer’s obligation, in a general, indoor office workplace, for following and adhering to California’s face covering mandate?

California’s face covering mandate initially came down from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) in the summer of 2020 and was last expanded and updated on November 16, 2020, to broadly require people in California to wear masks when outside their homes unless certain exceptions apply. While the CDPH guidance is still current, employers should now look to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard regarding their face covering obligations in the workplace.

Effective November 30, 2020, Cal/OSHA's Emergency Temporary Standard requires employers to develop and implement a COVID-19 Prevention Program addressing specific face-covering requirements, among other things. Employers must provide employees with face coverings, or reimburse employees for the cost, and ensure they are worn over the nose and mouth when indoors, and when outside within six feet of another person. There are certain exceptions to the requirement such as when employees are alone, eating or drinking, wearing a respirator or other respiratory protection, or have a medical condition.

Businesses must address face coverings in their COVID-19 Prevention Program and train employees on the requirements. Implementing a COVID-19 Prevention Program, including face covering requirements, is an important part of mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and violations of the Emergency Temporary Standard may result in Cal/OSHA enforcement actions and citations.

If an employee resists your mask policy or claims to have a disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering, then employers need to have a separate conversation, asking the employee for the reasons they can’t wear a mask and then use the interactive process to see what reasonable accommodations can be provided.

For more information on Cal/OSHA’s new COVID-19 emergency standard, review the following guidance:

Employers can also review the November 16, 2020 California Department of Public Health (CDPH) guidance that provides general information about the mandate, exemptions, and practical information about face coverings and how to care for them.