SCV business leaders weigh in on AB 685

Signal file photo of the state's Capitol building in Sacramento

Santa Clarita Valley business leaders are urging local businesses to review their health and safety procedures ahead of a new state law, set to take effect in January, which requires employers to provide notice of COVID-19 exposure in the workplace. 

Assembly Bill 685, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 17, does two things: mandates employers provide written notice and instructions to their workers who may have been exposed to the virus at the workplace; and, secondly, expands the power of California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health to enforce measures aimed at preventing exposure and spread of the virus. 

Enforcement from Cal/OSHA, which offers free safety and health assistance to employers, would include citation procedures and closing down worksites considered “an imminent hazard.” These provisions, which could be repealed, will last through Jan. 1, 2023, according to an analysis of the bill. 

With only months until AB 685 takes effect, the SCV Chamber of Commerce is urging businesses to review the new guidance before enforcement commences. 

“This law now fast-tracks the timeline for Cal/OSHA to issue citations to employers and expands Cal/OSHA’s authority to prohibit entry to the workplace,” Ivan Volschenk, managing partner at Evolve Business Strategies, which manages the Chamber, said in a statement. “The law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2021, and we urge businesses to review their procedures of what to do if an employee is exposed before then to be fully prepared. We encourage businesses to reach out to the SCV Chamber if they need assistance.”

As the community has learned more about the virus and adapted to the ever-changing state and county health regulations, local businesses have worked to stay in compliance and take measures, such as testing and quarantining workers, according to Holly Schroeder, CEO and President of the SCV Economic Development Corporation. 

“We’ve generally seen very high levels of compliance with the protocols that the (L.A. County) Health Department has put out, and we’ve seen from the beginning that our companies are really working hard to do everything they can to reduce any risk of spread,” she said. “There are mechanisms that companies are using, and it’s in the company’s interest to make sure that the rest of their employees are safe.”

In early September, county Public Health officials said worksite compliance to help prevent the spread of the virus is improving. Among 331 locations safety officials visited: 96% of all markets and hotels complied with protocols; 90% of hair salons/barbershops; and 83% of restaurants. 

The new law’s passage comes as the Hart District Teachers Association voiced support Wednesday for more transparency from the district about reporting COVID-19 cases on campuses, amid at least one confirmed case within the district. HDTA President John Minkus said the district should implement protocols under AB 685 “prior to the Jan. 1 date of enactment,” as teachers want to return to campus with their students as safely as possible. 

More closely, AB 685 requires an employer must do the following within one business day of receiving a notice of potential exposure from a public health official or doctor that a worker was exposed to another that tested positive for COVID-19: 

  • Provide a written notice to all employed who were on the premises at the same worksite as the infected individual. 
  • Provide workers with COVID-19-related benefits, such as workers’ compensation, coronavirus-related leave, and company or supplemental sick leave. 
  • Notify all employed on the disinfection and safety plan the employer intends to implement. 

Supporters, such as the California Labor Federation — a sponsor of the bill — argue that AB 685 will help provide clarity as there is currently a lack of clearly outlined regulations around reporting COVID-19 cases in the workplace, ultimately creating confusion among the employer community.

Opponents, such as the California Chamber of Commerce, argue that, while they support the overarching goal, the bill will expose “even good employers” to substantial fines and enforcement. 

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