Reyes’ Covid-19 Worker Protection Legislation Signed by Governor

Friday, September 18, 2020

Sacramento – AB 685, by Assemblymember Eloise Reyes (D-San Bernardino) was signed into law by Governor Newsom in Sacramento.  AB 685 requires employers to provide a notice within one business day to employees who have been exposed to COVID-19 at their worksite, and report to the California Department of Public Health if an outbreak occurs.    Current law does not require employers to notify their employees that they have been exposed to someone with Covid-19 at their work site.   California is still making progress to reduce the number of Covid-19 cases, but nonetheless the state is still averaging about 4,000 new cases per day as well as 100 deaths over the last two weeks.

Existing law addresses various workplace risks that must be reported to public health officials but lacks clarity on the appropriate reporting and employee notice that should occur when someone has been exposed to Covid-19.  Specifically, Covid-19 outbreaks and workplace exposures are subject to state and local requirements that are not clear to either employees or employers.  AB 685 establishes a clear standard and protocol that must be followed to address workplace exposure and worker protection.

“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, meatpacking plants, restaurant kitchens and countless other businesses in our state,” said Assemblymember Reyes. “COVID-19 infections and deaths disproportionately affect the Latino, Black, and Asian Pacific Islander communities. Communities that make up the majority of our state’s low-wage workers.  By notifying the public and workers of potential exposures as required under AB 685 we allow workers to take appropriate steps to protect themselves and their loved ones while also bolstering the response of public health officials.”

“UFCW members - and all essential workers - have suffered greatly in the pandemic from a lack of basic information needed to prevent worksite exposure and target COVID-19 hotspots,” said Andrea Zinder, president, UFCW Western States Council and UFCW Local 324. “Targeting virus spread in our pharmacies, grocery stores, farms, meatpacking plants, and countless other businesses is vital to prevent workers from getting sick and carrying illness home to our families and frontline communities; it is also essential to get our economy moving again and allow our state to re-open safely.”

“Too many employers have refused to properly notify workers when COVID-19 exposures and outbreaks occur, leading to countless worker illnesses and even fatalities,” said Art Pulaski, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the California Labor Federation. “AB 685 (Reyes), by requiring such notification, will allow workers, their unions, and local public health officials to keep employees and the public safe and is a critically important tool for lessening the spread of this horrible virus. We applaud the great work of Assemblymember Reyes and the UFCW Western States Council in getting this bill through the legislature and thank the Governor for signing it.”

Current law lacks clarity as to an employer’s reporting requirements, including to their own workforce. This deficiency has led to workers and members of the public living in fear for their own safety, unaware of where outbreaks may already be occurring.

A Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) survey released today also reveals that a majority of Californians are still concerned about potentially contracting Covid-19 and that communities of color and low-income workers are likely to be much more concerned than their counterparts.[1]