[co-author: Tomiye Oshita]
On December 13, 2021, the California Department of Public Health issued binding guidance requiring all Californians statewide to mask indoors irrespective of vaccination status. The new guidance supersedes California’s current guidance, which only requires masks for individuals on public transit and in K-12 schools and childcare facilities, emergency shelters and cooling centers, healthcare settings, state and local correctional facilities and detention centers, homeless shelters, long term care settings, adult and senior care facilities, and for unvaccinated individuals in all indoor public settings and businesses. The new guidance will go into effect on December 15, 2021, and will continue through at least January 15, 2022.
The new mandate includes certain exemptions: children under the age of two; persons with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a mask; persons who are hearing impaired, or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication; and persons for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.
The new requirements come in response to growing concern about the Omicron variant and a potential winter surge. Employers should review their face covering policies and consider revising them, if necessary, to comply with the new guidance. Employers in counties with existing indoor face covering mandates should review all applicable requirements to ensure they are in compliance with the most protective guidance governing their employees and operations.
We will continue to monitor for any new developments.
The legal landscape continues to evolve quickly and there is a lack of clear-cut authority or bright line rules on implementation. This article is not intended to be an unequivocal, one-size fits all guidance, but instead represents our interpretation of where applicable law currently and generally stands. This article does not address the potential impacts of the numerous other local, state and federal orders that have been issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including, without limitation, potential liability should an employee become ill, requirements regarding family leave, sick pay and other issues.