California's AB 685 - Notifying Employees and Public Agencies of COVID-19 in the Workplace

AB 685 (Chapter 84, Statutes of 2020) is a California law signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on September 17, 2020.

This law goes into effect on January 1, 2021 and:

  1. Requires employers to notify employees who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and to report workplace outbreaks to the local health department.
  2. Requires the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to publicly report information on workplace outbreaks.
  3. Authorizes Cal/OSHA to enforce COVID-19 hazards as an imminent hazard to provide immediate protection for workers.

What must an employer include in their notification to employees to comply with the first item above?

  • Notice they may have been exposed to COVID-19 - You can inform other workers of the dates that an individual with COVID-19 was at the worksite but should not share information that could identify the affected individual.
  • Information about benefits & options - You must provide your employees with information about COVID-19 benefits under federal, state, or local laws. This includes workers' compensation, company sick leave, state-mandated leave, supplemental sick leave, negotiated leave, and anti-retaliation and anti-discrimination protections.
  • A disinfection & safety plan - You need to inform them of your disinfection and safety plan for the worksite, in accordance with CDC guidelines.

Useful links to information about, and related to, California's AB 685

The text of the bill can be found here: AB-685 COVID-19: imminent hazard to employees: exposure: notification: serious violations.

The California Department of Public Health has posted Employer Questions about AB 685, California’s New COVID-19 Law and also Employer Guidance on AB 685: Definitions

Los Angeles County has a doc explaining workers' rights and the leaves and benefits that may be available for employees dealing with a COVID-related issue: FAQ Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Workers Rights

Blog post by the team at Lewitt Hackman: Employers: Notify Employees of Potential COVID-19 Exposure ASAP

Blog post by the team at Ballard Rosenberg Golper & Savitt: New COVID-19 Reporting Requirements for California Employers (COVID-19 UPDATE)

Useful information about COVID-19 testing and employees returning to the worksite

For questions about when an employee who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 can return to the worksite, the California Department of Public Health posted Guidance on Returning to Work or School Following COVID-19 Diagnosis It's important to note that the CDPH does not recommend requiring the employee to provide a negative test result.

For employees who have been exposed at the worksite, or anywhere else, the Los Angeles County Public Health Department posted guidance that includes a specific section on "targeted testing." This pertains to people deemed a "close contact" to someone who was COVID-positive and provides the protocol for allowing those "close contacts" to return to the worksite. The "targeted testing" section of the document (on page 2) explains why requiring a negative test result from a "close contact" is NOT a reliable protocol to follow. LA County's guidance can be found hereResponding to COVID-19 in the Workplace.

LA County's website has a testing FAQ page. In the section titled "Testing for Employees and Businesses" one of the questions is "Am I required to show a negative COVID-19 test result before returning to work?" and the answer states "No, employers cannot require a negative COVID-19 test result before employees return to work, and employees do not need to present a certificate saying they have tested negative." That page can be found here COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions About Testing

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