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Do California Employees Have to Wear a Face Covering When Returning to Work?

Now that employees are returning to work, many employers may wonder whether employees are required to wear face coverings in the workplace. The answer may depend on where your employees are located, and whether they are considered “essential workers.”


As of this writing, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone wear cloth face coverings when leaving their homes, regardless of whether they have fever or symptoms of COVID-19, and in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, especially in areas of significant community transmission. This is because of evidence that people with COVID-19 can spread the disease, even when they don’t have any symptoms.


Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance. Cloth face coverings are not surgical masks or respirators, and are not appropriate substitutes for them in workplaces where masks or respirators are recommended or required. See the CDC FAQs for business owners as employees and customers return to your business.


Employees should continue to follow their routine policies and procedures for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that they would ordinarily use for their job tasks. When cleaning and disinfecting, employees should always wear gloves and gowns appropriate for the chemicals being used. Additional personal protective equipment (PPE) may be needed based on setting and product.


In addition to the CDC guidelines, check the rules in your county and city. Currently, there is no California state-wide mandate, but plenty of cities and counties have their own rules, such as the following, which require face coverings inside essential businesses in Burbank, Inglewood, Long Beach, Pasadena, and Fremont.


In addition, these cities and counties in California require a face covering for the public, and/or employees in specific industries:



  • San Francisco County

  • Yolo County

  • Sonoma County

  • San Mateo County

  • Alameda County

  • Contra Costa County

  • Marin County

  • Los Angeles County

  • Buena Park

  • Costa Mesa

  • Irvine

  • Riverside County: $1,000 fine for anyone not wearing a face-covering in public

  • San Bernardino County: $1,000 fine for anyone not wearing a face-covering in public


Always check official government websites for the latest information in the cities and counties in which your employees do business.


For example, according to the County of Los Angeles, “Per the Health Officer, essential businesses are required to provide all of their employees whose duties require contact with other employees and/or the public with a cloth face covering to wear. Everyone is asked to wear a face covering when they are interacting with others who are not members of their household in public and private spaces. Face coverings are an additional tool that individuals should use to help slow the spread of COVID-19 but does not replace other physical distancing requirements.


In Irvine, as of April 24, employees who interact with the public in grocery, pharmacy and convenience stores, as well as gas stations, restaurants, and other locations where food is prepared, will be required to wear a face mask.

Other CDC guidelines to keep employees and customers safe include the following:

  • Consider options to increase physical space between employees and customers such as opening a drive- through, erecting partitions, and marking floors to guide spacing at least six feet apart.

  • At least once a day clean and disinfect surfaces frequently touched by multiple people. This includes door handles, desks, phones, light switches, and faucets,

  • Consider assigning a person to rotate throughout the workplace to clean and disinfect surfaces.

  • Consider scheduling handwashing breaks so employees can wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.

  • Consider scheduling a relief person to give cashiers and service desk workers an opportunity to wash their hands.


Changes to Worker’s Compensation Claims Due to COVID-19


Another thing to keep in mind is the impact of Covid safety procedures on worker’s compensation claims.


On May 6, California Governor Gavin Newsom imposed a new order putting the burden on employers in worker’s compensation claims due to Covid that is retroactive to March 19. Workers who contract COVID-19 while on the job may be eligible to receive workers’ compensation. The Governor signed an executive order that creates a time-limited rebuttable presumption for accessing workers’ compensation benefits applicable to Californians who must work outside of their homes during the stay at home order.


The rebuttable presumption will apply if an employee tested positive for COVID-19 or was diagnosed with COVID-19, and this was confirmed by a positive test within 14 days of performing a labor or service at a place of work after the stay at home order was issued on March 19, 2020. The presumption will stay in place for 60 days after issuance of the executive order. 


If your business receives a worker’s compensation claim for COVID, the burden will be on the employer to show that the employee did not contract Covid in the workplace.  Practicing quarantine measures for anyone who mentions exposure could be helpful in rebutting this presumption. An employer should document any and all measures to prevent the spread of the disease, such as documenting any quarantine directives to require an employee to stay home; having employees wear face coverings (even providing to employees if possible or required); encouraging employees not to share office equipment, such as phone, work stations, computers, and desks; providing no-touch receptacles and equipment; requiring social distancing; providing hand sanitizer throughout the workplace; and providing PPE, etc.


In addition, now is a good time to prepare return to work policies for employees as they begin to come back to the workplace.

The Grady Firm can help you assess your risks, answer your employment law questions, and assist with preparing the above policies.  Please call us at (949) 798-6298 to book a complimentary consultation, or schedule a call on our website.


You can find our COVID-19 blogs, videos, and posts on our website.


This article does not constitute legal advice. Please speak with a qualified employment lawyer in your jurisdiction before creating new employee policies.

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