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Do employers need to pay for employees to get a COVID test or vaccine?

Employers that require an employee to get a COVID-19 test or vaccination must pay for the cost, according to the California Department of Industrial Relations.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Employers that require employees to get a COVID-19 test or vaccination need to pay for the time it takes for the testing or vaccination, including travel time, according to the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR).

The time, according to the DIR, is considered "hours worked." However, time spent waiting for a COVID-19 test result is not part of the hours worked — although a worker may be able to use paid leave while waiting for the results.

"The term 'hours worked' means the time during which a worker is subject to the control of an employer, and includes all the time the worker is suffered or permitted to work, whether or not required to do so," according to the DIR.

If the time is considered hours worked, then an employer cannot require a worker to use paid leave.

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Employers can require tests and vaccines that are FDA-approved or have Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA.

According to the DIR, employers may require employees to take a viral test, but not an antibody test. Viral tests include a PCR test and an antigen test, commonly referred to as a rapid test. A PCR test is generally more sensitive than an antigen test, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

COVID in the Workplace

In December, the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board readopted the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 temporary standards, which include revisions for workplace rules to make them consistent with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) requirements.

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The emergency standards go into effect on Jan. 14, 2022, and apply to most workers in California who are not covered by the Aerosol Transmissible Diseases standard, which includes work in healthcare facilities. 

Employers will be required to make COVID-19 testing available at no cost and during the paid time to employees who were fully vaccinated before the “close contact” with a COVID-19 case in the workplace. This is even if they are asymptomatic.

In the workplace, close contact is when an employee is within six feet of someone with COVID for a total of 15 minutes or more in a 24-hour period from two days before someone develops symptoms until 10 days after symptoms first appeared.

For more information on COVID-19 vaccinations locally, visit the My Turn website. For more information on COVID-19 testing and vaccination questions, visit the DIR's website.

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