Break It Down Again: Quarantine & Isolation Updates for California Employers


On January 6, 2022, after nearly a week of confusion among employers, Cal/OSHA finally clarified the COVID-19 exclusion requirements applicable to the workplace.

The confusion began on December 27, 2021, when the CDC issued new quarantine and isolation guidelines for the general public.  These new guidelines significantly shortened the periods during which exposed individuals or those with confirmed COVID-19 cases needed to quarantine or isolate – and in fact contradicted some of the exclusion requirements of the current Cal/OSHA Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS), as well as the amended Cal/OSHA ETS scheduled to take effect on January 14, 2022. 

Compounding the confusion, on December 30, 2021, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) made changes to its recommended isolation and quarantine periods, based on the CDC’s new recommendations.  Many local health departments followed suit, issuing health orders incorporating the accelerated CPDH standards.

After some uncertainty, on January 6, 2022, Cal/OSHA clarified its position (see “CDPH Isolation and Quarantine”) that a 2020 Executive Order issued by Governor Newsom permits the quarantine and isolation requirements in the ETS to be overridden by applicable CDPH or local health department rules, if the ETS’s exclusion periods are longer than the CDPH’s or a local health department’s exclusion periods.  Moreover, Cal/OSHA clarified that if the CDPH or a local health department exclusion periods differ and both are shorter than the ETS’s, the required exclusion period will be whichever is longer, the CDPH’s or the local health department’s exclusion period.

In practice, this means that the new CDPH quarantine and isolation recommendations have replaced those in the current ETS, except that fully-vaccinated, asymptomatic close contacts still do not need to quarantine per the ETS.  Effective January 14 onward, when the amended ETS takes effect, the CDPH recommendations will replace the exclusion periods and return-to-work criteria for all employees.  However, employers should be sure to consult any local health department quarantine and isolation orders for any additional requirements or requirements specific to a particular industry.

The key points of new CDPH quarantine and isolation requirements are summarized by Cal/OSHA within the tables found in its updated “CDPH Isolation and Quarantine” FAQ, found here: COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards Frequently Asked Questions (

  • Important note: The quarantine guidelines now distinguish between close contact employees (1) who are unvaccinated (must quarantine), (2) vaccinated and booster-eligible but have not yet received their booster dose (may be excused from workplace quarantine if specified conditions are met); and (3) boosted or vaccinated but not yet booster-eligible (no quarantine required).

As always, please contact your employment counsel, or the authors of this article, for further assistance.

This AALRR publication is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon in reaching a conclusion in a particular area of law. Applicability of the legal principles discussed may differ substantially in individual situations. Receipt of this or any other AALRR publication does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Firm is not responsible for inadvertent errors that may occur in the publishing process. 

© 2022 Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo



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