COVID in 2022…Return to Work Guidelines, Testing, and The New Road to Compliance

01.27.22Baylee Davies

COVID in 2022…Return to Work Guidelines, Testing, and The New Road to Compliance

We are 27 days into the new year and the evolution of workplace guidelines during the pandemic continues to be a complex and at times, exhausting journey. Breaking down the exact jurisdiction mandates that an employer needs to adhere to can be complicated and time-consuming, to say the least. California employers have an obligation to follow CAL/OSHA requirements and the ever-changing standards that come along with that or face hefty penalties and fines. Since November 2020, when CAL/OSHA first adopted the Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS), CA employers have experienced numerous compliance changes. The most recent readopted ETS guidelines took effect on January 14, 2022, and remain in effect until April 14, 2022. What does that mean for your business? Let’s review a quick breakdown of where things are today and what that looks like for your workplace.

CA’s Workplace Today

  • COVID Prevention Plan: Employers must have a COVID Prevention Plan (CPP). The plan must include COVID-19 prevention controls in the workplace such as: return to work protocols, testing requirements, face coverings, symptom screening and vaccine mandates (if applicable)
  • Face Coverings: Current CDPH orders require face coverings indoors through February 15, 2022 for everyone, inclusive of workplace settings
  • Isolation & Quarantine: CDPH has since reduced its recommended isolation and quarantine standards which overrides the return to work criteria in the revised ETS
  • Adhere to revised Exclusion Requirements and Protocols as follows


Exclusion Requirements and Protocols

Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19
(COVID-19 case*)

*has a positive test for COVID-19 and/or has a positive COVID-19 diagnosis from a licensed healthcare provider
The employee must isolate, regardless of vaccination status, previous infection, or lack of symptoms

The employee may return to the workplace after Day 5 ONLY if:

• A COVID-19 test* collected on Day 5 or later is negative, and no fever for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicine, and other symptoms are improving

• Employee must wear a face covering for a total of 10 days after the positive test

*Test cannot be both self-administered and self-read unless observed by the employer or an authorized telehealth proctor

The employee may return to the workplace after Day 10 if:

• No fever for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicine, and other symptoms are not present or are improving
Employee is Exposed to Someone with COVID-19
(not up to date with vaccination requirements OR fully vaccinated and booster eligible but have not yet received their booster dose)
• Quarantine for at least  5 days 

• Wear a mask and physical distance to the fullest extent possible for 10 days

• Get tested on Day 5 or later (antigen or PCR): If test is negative and no symptoms, employee can end quarantine. Test cannot be both self-administered and self-read unless observed by the employer or an authorized telehealth proctor

• If an employee is unable or chooses not to test and does not have symptoms, quarantine can end and the employee may return to the workplace after Day 10
Employee is Exposed to Someone with COVID-19
(Boosted or fully vaccinated but not yet booster-eligible)
• Quarantine not required as long as symptoms do not develop

• Must wear a mask and physical distance to the fullest extent possible for 10 days

• Should get tested on Day 5 or later (antigen or PCR): No test on Day 5 or later, employee must wear a mask and physical distance to the fullest extent possible for 14 days
Employer Testing RequirementsMust offer testing at no cost to employees during paid time to:

• Symptomatic unvaccinated employees, regardless of whether there is a known exposure

• All employees regardless of vaccination status, who have had close contact with a COVID-19 case, except for recently recovered employees

• All employees except for recently recovered employees, regardless of vaccination status, in an outbreak or a major outbreak
Pay Requirements for Mandated Vaccine/Booster/TestingEmployers will need to pay employees for time spent (including drive time)

• Time is considered “hours worked” and employers are required to  pay employees through regular wages 

• Employers may not require employees to use vacation, PTO and/or sick time
What is COVID Pay?CA will be renewing COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave for businesses with 26+ employees through September 30, 2022. The sick pay will retro back to January 1, 2022. Covered employers would be required to provide employees with up to two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave to recover from COVID-19 or care for a family member with the virus. Additional details should be available in the coming weeks.
Employee Has Side Effects From Vaccine/Booster (mandated or not)The following can be used:

• CA sick leave (can offer but employer can not require it to be used)

• Vacation and/or PTO 
COVID Positive Employee Due to Workplace ExposureExclusion Pay is required to be given to employee (exceptions may apply)

• Employer is not required to  maintain the exposed employee’s earnings and benefits if the excluded employee is unable to work because of reasons other than exposure to COVID-19 at work
Isolation Refers To:A COVID-19 case
Quarantine Refers To:Employee who is required to stay away from others due to close contact with someone who has COVID-19

With the ever-changing regulations surrounding COVID-19, we know staying on top of your business can be confusing and stressful. At SDHRC we are here to assist you with guidance surrounding COVID-19 and more. Please reach out to info@sdhrconsulting.com for further questions and additional information. We are always happy to help!

About the Author

Marsi Harris, “Madre of HR”

Marsi is an HR Consultant who has been with SDHRC for over 2 years but has over 17 years of experience in talent management, organizational development, compensation analysis, and HR compliance. In the free time that Marsi does have, she enjoys traveling and enjoying time with her family.