LA Times: How will California’s workplace laws change in 2022? More protections are coming
December 31, 2021
BY MARGOT ROOSEVELT
An explosion of COVID-19 infections across large companies such as supermarket chains, meatpackers, fast-food outlets and warehouses highlighted the weak penalties of California’s worker safety laws. And workplace safety agency Cal/OSHA, with just one inspector per 103,000 workers, has said it is too understaffed to visit 80% of sites where workers complain of safety violations.
Senate Bill 606, mirroring a similar federal law, allows California inspectors to issue “enterprise-wide” citations to companies with a pattern of violations, despite not having visited every work site in person.Under earlier rules, an employer with multiple workplace outbreaks was typically cited for only a single violation. Traditionally, Cal/OSHA has preferred to negotiate with employers rather than issue fines. But low penalties failed to deter companies from flouting the rules, said Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), the bill’s author.
The new law requires the agency to label some employers as “egregious” when, for instance, workers are killed or are hospitalized as a result of “willful” safety violations. The agency must stack citations for each affected worker with fines of up to $134,334 each.
“You had large employers just ignoring the public health guidance on social distancing, masking and other measures,” said Eduardo Martinez, legislative director of the California Labor Federation. “As a result, a lot of workers got sick and many of them died.”
But SB 606 applies to all workplace safety situations — not just those involving the coronavirus.
“We come through a pandemic, where the majority of our business community is hanging on for dear life,” said Assemblyman Heath Flora (R-Ripon), who opposed the bill. “COVID was used to push an agenda that labor groups have been unable to get done before.”