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New COVID exposure law to protect workers via transparency

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Lindsey Pacela
Angie Lopez-Yepes
Staff Writers

If a California workplace puts employees or customers in danger from exposure to COVID-19, that workplace must communicate to those employees and customers immediately that they have been exposed, under a new state law that went into effect last month. 

Workplaces that violate the provisions of the law will be fined. 

The law, Assembly Bill 685,  improves upon a previous state law, which required the state division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA,  to take such action when a physical object is of imminent hazard for employees or customers in the workplace. 

The new law has additional provisions, including notifying anyone exposed within one day,  providing information about worker’s compensation to employees, and providing a disinfectant plan for the place of outbreak.  

State Assembly member Eloise Gómez Reyes, D-Colton, authored the law specifically to protect workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than a half-million Americans, and more than 50,000 Californians to date. The law went into effect on Jan. 1 of this year and is scheduled to sunset on Jan.1, 2023. 

“In the age of COVID-19, our essential workers risk their lives and the lives of their loved ones in our fields, hospitals, grocery stores…,” Reyes said in a statement when the bill was signed into law. “COVID-19 infections and deaths disproportionately affect the Latino, Black, and Asian Pacific Islander communities… that make up the majority of our state’s low-wage workers.”

Maribel Osorio, a nurse at AltaMed Medical Group and resident of Rialto, said that many people test positive for COVID-19 due to the negligence of their employers. 

“Many of the people who came in were scared that they might have COVID because one of their work buddies was positive, and their bosses didn’t want it to be known,” Osorio said.

Under the new law, Cal/OSHA  has the authority to shut down any worksite that it believes is increasing employees’ exposure to the coronavirus.

“I’m glad that …  it’s a law, but shouldn’t it be something that workplaces already do?” said senior sociology major Jennifer Bogarin-Espinoza. “I feel like it would be obvious for employers to be responsible and proceed safely without a law making them.”

“I know many businesses will try to find ways around it, even when they shouldn’t,” said Jasmine Almaraz, senior psychology major. 

Almaraz said that she’s seen on Twitter that many fast-food employees out their employers for not telling customers when there have been COVID cases at the establishments.

Before AB 685, when employers were not transparent, Cal/OSHA would have to send a form to the employer and business 15 days prior to issuing a citation with a serious violation.

Now, Cal/OSHA can issue citations with serious violations to any business that ignores provisions of  AB 685 without the possibility of any interference as it would happen within that 15-day window. 

For more information about AB 685, visit the California Legislature website.

Lindsey Pacela can be reached at lindsey.pacela@laverne.edu.

Angie Lopez-Yepes can be reached at angie.lopezyepes@laverne.edu.

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