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AB 685 Imposes New Notice Obligations for COVID-19 Workplace Exposure

September 22, 2020

On September 17, 2020, Governor Newsom signed into law AB 685 (Chapter 84, Statutes of 2020) which imposes new notice obligations on employers if an employee is exposed to COVID-19. The bill will become effective on January 1, 2021 and will sunset on January 1, 2023. The provisions in the bill apply to both public and private employers.

Notice Provision

The law’s notice provisions are triggered when an employer receives a “notice of potential exposure” to COVID-19. That notice is defined as any of the following:

  • Notification to the employer from a public health official or licensed medical provider that an employee was exposed to a “qualifying individual” at the worksite.
  • Notification to the employer from the employee that the employee is a qualifying individual.
  • Notification through the employer’s testing protocol that the employee is a qualifying individual.
  • Notification to the employer from a subcontracted employer that a qualifying individual was on the employer’s worksite.

The law defines a “qualifying individual” as a person who has had a laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19, a positive diagnosis from a licensed health care provider, an order to isolate provided by a public health official, or who has died due to COVID-19. The law defines a “worksite” as the building, store, facility, agricultural field, or other location where a worker worked during the infectious period. (The law clarifies that it does not apply to buildings, floors, or other locations of the employer that a qualified individual did not enter.) The law defines “infectious period” as the time a COVID-19-positive individual is infectious, as defined by the State Department of Public Health (https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/COVID-19/Workplace-Outbreak-Guidance.aspx).

Beginning on January 1, 2021, when an employer receives a “notice of potential exposure” to COVID-19, it will be required to take all of the following actions within one business day of the notice of potential exposure:

  • Provide written notice to all employees and employers of subcontracted employees who were on premises at the same worksite as the qualifying individual, in both English and the language understood by the majority of employees.
  • Provide written notice to the exclusive representative of employees, if any. This notice shall contain the same information as would be required in an incident report in a Cal/OSHA Form 300 illness and injury log unless the information is inapplicable or unknown to the employer. (This requirement will apply regardless of whether the employer is required to maintain a Cal/OSHA Form 300 injury and illness log.)
  • Provide both employees and the exclusive representative with information regarding COVID-19-related benefits to which the employee may be entitled under applicable federal, state or local law, including but not limited to workers’ compensation, and options for exposed employees, including COVID-19-related leave, supplemental sick leave and negotiated leave provisions, as well as antiretaliation and antidiscrimination protections of the employee.
  • Notify all employees, the employers of subcontracted employees and the exclusive representative on the disinfection and safety plan that the employer plans to implement.

The employer need only notify qualified employees who were at the same worksite as the qualified individual. Employers must maintain records of the written notifications required by this provision for at least three years.

“Outbreak” Provision

AB 685 provides that if the employer or representative of the employer is notified of the number of cases that meet the definition of a COVID-19 outbreak, as defined by the State Department of Public Health, the employer must notify the local public health agency of the following information within 48 hours:

  • Names, numbers, occupation and worksite of employees who meet the definition of a “qualifying individual;” and
  • The business address and NAICS code (Industry Code) of the worksite where the qualifying individual worked.

This “outbreak” provision does not apply to health facilities defined under section 1250 of the Health and Safety Code. Neither the outbreak nor the notice provisions apply to employees who, as part of their duties, conduct COVID-19 testing or screening or provide direct patient care or treatment to individuals who are known to have tested positive for COVID-19, are persons under investigation, or are in quarantine or isolation related to COVID-19, unless the qualifying individual is an employee at the same worksite.

Other Employer Obligations

Employers are prohibited by this law from requiring employees to disclose medical information unless otherwise required by law. Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against a worker for disclosing a positive COVID-19 test or diagnosis, or order to quarantine or isolate.

“Serious Violation”

AB 685 also makes it easier for Cal/OSHA to establish a rebuttable presumption that a serious violation related to COVID-19 exists in the workplace, by removing the requirement that Cal/OSHA issue a standardized form containing the alleged violation description (AVD) it intends to cite before issuing a citation alleging that a violation is serious and allowing the employer to respond.

Workplace Closure Provision

Finally, the bill provides that when, in the opinion of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), a place of employment exposes workers to the risk of COVID-19 infection so as to constitute an imminent hazard to employees, entry into such place of employment may be prohibited by DOSH with notice to the employer and conspicuous posting at the place of employment. The bill specifies that the prohibition of use shall be limited to the immediate area where the imminent hazard exists, and that the prohibition of use must be issued in a manner so as not to materially interrupt the performance of critical government functions essential to ensuring public health and safety or the delivery of electrical power or water. It is important to note that while this bill does not go into effect until January 1, 2021, DOSH has this authority to shut down workplaces if they determine there is imminent danger to employees.

In the short time since the signing of this bill, there are already discussions within the legislature about a potential bill to provide further clarification and potential modifications. It is unclear at this point if that bill will be an urgency bill to take effect January 1, 2021, or if proposed changes will come later in 2021.


Keenan & Associates is not a law firm and no opinion, suggestion, or recommendation of the firm or its employees shall constitute legal advice. Clients are advised to consult with their own attorney for a determination of their legal rights, responsibilities and liabilities, including the interpretation of any statute or regulation, or its application to the clients’ business activities.