A law that will come into force next year that will greatly expand the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health's ability to impose fines for pandemic-related crimes is a wake-up call for companies with multiple locations, legal experts say.  There are "many concerns from employers," said Ilana Morady, Labor & Employment Practice Advisor at the San Francisco office in Seyfarth Shaw LLP. "The new law dramatically increases Cal / OSHA's enforcement powers" to look at infections in the workplace.
Despite screams from the business community, California Governor Gavin Newsom S.B. 606 on September 27th. Morady said law advocates "exploited the COVID-1
The law, which enters into force on 1 January 2022, establishes two new categories of violations of workplace safety: company-wide and gross.
Specifically, it creates a disproven presumption that a violation committed by an employer who has several workplaces is "company-wide" if the employer has a written policy or procedure that violates existing workplace safety regulations, or that the department has evidence of the same violation as committed by an employer in more than one of its workplaces.
Under the Second New Classification of Workplace Infringement, Cal / OSHA will be empowered to issue a citation for a "serious" violation. action or inaction, made no reasonable effort to eliminate the known violation "and the violation" resulted in the death of a worker, a workplace disaster, or a large number of injuries or illnesses. "
The law defines" disaster "as" hospitalization " , regardless of duration, for three or more employees as a result of an injury, illness, or exposure caused by a workplace hazard or permit. ”
The California Chamber of Commerce said in a statement backed by more than three dozen business organizations in the state that SB 606 provides "Massive changes to existing Cal / OSHA precedents and compliance practices by introducing uncertainty t, ambiguity and duplication in an already complex legislative environment ”and that the law will slow down the company's recovery.
At the same time, trade unions and advocates for the workplace praised the law.
"We have seen how quickly COVID-19 infections spread in California workplaces and how workers paid the price for these outbreaks with their health and lives," said Andrea Zinder, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Western States Council and UFCW Local 324, in a statement issued by the office of team sponsor Senator Lena Gonzalez. delta variant, it is imperative that California continues to prioritize workplace safety. "
Legal experts said that the consequences of the new law are as uncertain as the virus itself.
"The questions that jump out at me are those that are pandemic-related," said Sean Paisan, Cal / OSHA's defense attorney with Jackson Lewis PC in Irvine, California, adding that by definition of a gross violation, a company will have experienced a disaster if "three or more employees are hospitalized for illness."
“The problem here is the definition; three or more diseases have occurred for each employer during the pandemic, he says. "There is a big problem with how they have structured what a gross violation is."
The bill, with some exceptions, requires that "each instance of an employee who is subjected to that violation be considered a separate violation for the purpose of issuing fines and penalties," Paisan said. For a large company, "these numbers can be summed up pretty quickly," he said.
Add a multi-site employer and S.B. 606 can be expensive, Morady said, adding that employers should take steps to prepare for the law's entry into force.
"All employers with multiple jobs, the first thing you should do is dot your in and cross your t and make sure you have no compliance issues," she said. "You always want to do it, but the risk of responsibility is now greatly increased."