Updates for California employers and employees on new legislation

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 685 into law, establishing new notice and reporting requirements for employers after becoming aware of a COVID-19 exposure in the workplace. The new law eases the pre-citation requirements that the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) must follow before issuing a citation for a serious violation related to COVID-19.The new law will be effective from Jan. 1, 2021 until Jan. 1, 2023.

Gov. Newsom also signed SB 1159 on Sept. 17, 2020. SB 1159 sets the ground rules for Workers’ Compensation presumptions concerning employees who contract COVID-19 in the workplace. Below, we discuss the different components and requirements of each bill. 

Please note that AB 685 does not address Workers’ Compensation; therefore, this bill will have no effect on our clients’ loss reporting process to their insurance carrier. 

AB 685 Overview 

Effective Jan. 1, 2021 to Jan. 1, 2023, employers are required to take the following action within one business day of a “potential exposure” of COVID-19 in the workplace: 

  • Provide written notice to all employees and employers of subcontracted employees who were at the worksite of the qualifying individual within the infectious period and may have been exposed to COVID-19;
  • Provide written notice to employee representatives, including unions, who may represent employees;
  • Provide written notice to employees and/or employee representatives regarding COVID-19-related benefits that employees may receive, including workers’ compensation benefits, COVID-19 leave, paid sick leave, and the company’s anti-retaliation and anti-discrimination policies; and
  • Provide notice to employees, the employers of subcontracted employees, and employee representatives regarding the company’s disinfection protocols and safety plan that the company plans to implement and complete to prevent further exposures, per CDC guidelines.

Reporting COVID-19 outbreaks 

Employers are required to report prescribed information to the local public health agency in the jurisdiction of the worksite within 48 hours of learning of a COVID-19 outbreak.

This information includes name, number, occupation, and worksite of the qualifying individual, along with the business address and NAICS code of the worksite. 

During an outbreak, the employer is required to give notice of any subsequent confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the Worksite.

Cal/OSHA enforcement changes 

Cal/OSHA now has the authority to close down a business if it deems there is an “imminent hazard” related to potential COVID-19 transmission. The law does not prescribe a specific level or type of exposure to COVID-19 that may create an imminent hazard and instead leaves that up to Cal/OSHA. 

The law also relaxed the notice requirements for serious citations related to COVID-19. Under the new modification, the agency can immediately issue citations for serious violations related to COVID-19 without giving employers a 15-day notice before issuance. 


Comparing AB 685 vs. SB 1159

CA Assembly Bill 685

CA Senate Bill 1159

Employer to notify

  • Employees
  • Employers of subcontracted employees
  • Employee representatives 
  • Insurance Carrier

Required employer knowledge

 Notice of potential exposure to COVID-19: 

  • Qualifying individual tested COVID-19 Positive, or 
  • has COVID-19 diagnosis
  • Employer knows or should have known an employee tested positive for COVID-19

Notification Within:

One business day  Three business days

Definition of worksite/specific place of employment 

Worksite means the building, store, facility or other location, including the floor(s), the qualifying individual worked during infectious period. Specific place of employment is a building, store, or facility where the employee performed the work. 

 Definition of Outbreak

Three or more laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 within a two-week period among workers who live in different households, defined by the Dept. of Public Health Four employees who test positive for COVID-19 at a location (if 100 employees, or 4% of employees if over 100 employees);
Or as defined by the worksite’s jurisdictional local public health department Or specific place of employment is ordered to close by local public health department, Dept. of Public Health, Cal/OSHA, or school superintendent due to COVID-19

 Is there a reporting requirement to public health agency? 

 Yes, within 48 hours of learning of a COVID-19 outbreak  No

Gallagher is here to help

Employer Contact Tracing 

Our Gallagher Bassett Employer Contact Tracing solution is supported by a robust series of processes with rigorous oversight, quality control, detailed data capture and reporting, all housed in a secure environment. We are prepared not only to help you and your team return to the workplace amid COVID-19, but also to remain in the workplace in the weeks and months ahead. Click here to learn more. 

The Road to Re-Occupancy

No matter where you are in your journey, Gallagher is here to help you navigate the road back to re-occupancy in COVID-19. We invite you to explore Gallagher Bassett’s Re-occupancy Roadmap to help create your plan, prepare your workplace and get you back to business safely. Click here to access our return to workplace resources.


Gallagher provides risk services consultation that is tailored to our clients’ particular loss history, industry risk factors, and insurance program structure. Our services, summaries and recommendations can include claim advocacy, evaluation of loss frequency and severity, loss prevention strategy, sufficiency of self-insured retentions, risk transfer options, identification of risk exposures, and insurance coverage for particular claims. Our work can also include collaboration with carriers, our client’s legal counsel, loss prevention or actuarial consultants. We emphasize that any of the above risk services, risk management opinions, and advice provided directly to clients or to clients’ third-party vendors, is both confidential and intended for our clients’ use and not for distribution. We also only offer the advice from an insurance/risk management perspective and it is NOT legal advice or intended to supplant the advice or services provided to clients from legal counsel and advisors. We recommend that our clients seek advice from legal counsel and third-party professionals to become fully apprised of all legal and financial implications to their businesses.

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