Masked employees in an office
Masked employees in an office. Photo via Pixabay

California regulators have backtracked on a plan to require office workers to continue wearing masks after the state fully reopens from the pandemic on June 15.

The Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board voted Wednesday night to withdraw previous guidance that masks would be required unless all employees in a workplace were vaccinated against COVID-19.

The decision by Cal/OSHA followed new recommendations by the CDC and the California Department of Public Health, as well as widespread criticism from the business community.

Rachel Michelin, president and CEO of the California Retailers Association, said the earlier rules “would have led to confusion, pitted employees against each other in the workplace and would have made our reopening much more complicated”

“We appreciate the Cal/OSHA board rescinding the recommendations they approved on June 3 in consideration of aligning their employer regulations with the CDC, California Department of Public Health and Governor in terms of vaccinated employees,” she said.

The board will meet again on June 17, and Michelin urged the regulators to provide clear rules going forward.

Jerry Sanders, president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, told members in an email on Thursday that Cal/OSHA’s action was a “step in the right direction” though there is still potential for confusion.

“While the outcome from last night’s meeting is far from perfect, we do believe it is a step in the right direction toward reopening in a practical manner that won’t make employers vulnerable,” he said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Dr. Mark Gahly, secretary of the state Health and Human Services Agency, recommended that people who are not vaccinated still wear masks in indoor public settings, including offices, stores, movie theaters and government offices.

Gahly said businesses in California will have three options:

  • They can post rules regarding mask-wearing and allow visitors to say whether they are vaccinated
  • They can implement a vaccine-verification system to determine whether individuals should wear a masks
  • They can simply require everyone wear a mask

“This is the choice of the venue and the operators,” Ghaly said. “We at the state level are giving all three options to private and independent operators to choose which is best suited for their community and their businesses.”

California will still require that masks be worn in healthcare, childcare and correctional facilities, as well as at homeless shelters.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.