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FAQ: California’s COVID-19 Response and the Construction Industry

The State of California issued a stay-at-home order on March 19, 2020, which is in place until modified or ended by the state government. Construction work is broadly deemed essential work in California, though many cities and counties have their own standards regarding this designation. Below are some frequently asked questions regarding the effect of the Stay-at-Home Order on the construction industry in California.


(Last Updated: April 24, 2020).

Background on Governor Newsom’s Stay-at-Home Order.


On March 19, 2020, Governor Newsom issued Executive Order N-33-20 (the “Stay-at-Home Order”) ordering all individuals to stay at their place of residence, except as needed to maintain continuity of operation of the federal critical infrastructure sectors, critical government services, schools, childcare, and construction, including housing construction. The Executive Order is in place until further notice.

Are Construction Workers Exempted From California’s Stay-at-Home Order?


The State of California has broadly exempted construction work from the Stay-at-Home Order. However, as individual counties and/or cities may have stricter orders in place, it is advised to check with your local city and county’s orders.


Construction work is exempt from the Stay-at-Home Order issued by the State of California. On March 22, 2020, the California State Public Health Officer provided a list of “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers” that are permitted to continue work while the Stay-at-Home Order is in place. This exemption includes “Construction Workers who support the construction, operation, inspection, and maintenance of construction sites and construction projects (including housing construction).” This exemption for construction work also applies to workers such as plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of construction sites and construction projects.


However, certain counties and cities have stricter orders in place, including orders that limit what type of construction work can be performed. For example, the City and County of San Francisco have placed stricter limits on the type of construction work which can operate during COVID-19 closures. Construction in San Francisco must fall in one of eight exempt categories:

  1. Projects immediately necessary to the maintenance, operation, or repair of Essential Infrastructure;

  2. Projects associated with Healthcare Operations, including creating or expanding Healthcare Operations, provided that such construction is directly related to the COVID-19 response;

  3. Affordable housing that is or will be income-restricted, including multi-unit or mixed-use developments containing at least 10% income-restricted units;

  4. Public works projects if specifically designated as an Essential Governmental Function by the City Administrator in consultation with the Health Officer;

  5. Shelters and temporary housing, but not including hotels or motels;

  6. Projects immediately necessary to provide critical non-commercial services to individuals experiencing homelessness, elderly persons, persons who are economically disadvantaged, and persons with special needs;

  7. Construction necessary to ensure that existing construction sites that must be shut down under the Order are left in a safe and secure manner, but only to the extent necessary to do so, and;

  8. Construction or repair necessary to ensure that residences and buildings containing Essential Businesses are safe, sanitary, or habitable to the extent such construction or repair cannot reasonably be delayed.


All six Bay Area counties have adopted similar limitations on construction work through May 3, 2020. In contrast to these Bay Area counties, major cities such as Los Angeles have permitted construction work to continue on commercial, office, public works, and residential projects, similar to the statewide order. Due to the potential for city and county restrictions that are stricter than the California’s Stay-at-Home Order, it is essential that you confirm the status of construction work from your city and county governments prior to performing construction work in California.

How Should You Find Out if Your City or County Has Any Construction Work Exemptions?

Due to the significant variation in what types of construction work is permitted in cities and counties during the shutdown, we recommend that you follow the Associated General Contractors of California’s chart tracking the various county and city rules: (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/18gT_UMN8n3Pzb3b4DiKNlxViF6EEcg8_9ALk5VVUSCg/edit#gid=0).


Additionally, we recommend reviewing the city and county government web pages relevant to your construction project’s location.

What is the Impact of California Joining the Western States Pact and Announcing a Reopening Plan?

On April 13, the State of California joined with Washington and Oregon to form the Western States Pact, committing all three states to a coordinated approach to reopening the state economies and future methods for controlling COVID-19. California, Washington, and Oregon still each have their own regulatory approaches to combating COVID-19. Additionally, each state will still be responsible for its own state-specific plan and timeline for reopening.


On April 15, Governor Newsom announced six indicators that the State of California will use for deciding when and how to modify at the Stay-at-Home Order. The State of California has not given any timeline for when such reopening will occur. These six factors include: (1) The ability to track the virus; (2) Preventing infections of the most at risk; (3) The health system’s ability to handle surges; (4) The development of therapeutics; (5) The ability for businesses and schools to support social distancing, and; (6) Other determinations regarding implementation of certain government measures. As such, the current Stay-at-Home Order continues until further developments are made regarding the six factors above.

What Safety Practices Do You Need to Follow for Construction Work?

The State of California’s Department of Industrial Relations recommends that essential businesses follow U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for implementing COVID-19 prevention practices in their workplace. These guidelines include:

  • Ensuring that employees can maintain a safe distance (approximately 6 feet) from others when possible (e.g., break rooms and cafeterias);

  • Routinely cleaning and disinfecting all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, keyboards, telephones, handrails, and doorknobs;

  • Consider implementing flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts), increasing physical space between employees at the worksite, and increasing physical space between employees and customers; and

  • Consider providing employees with tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles, and place hand sanitizers in multiple locations to encourage hand hygiene.


Cities and counties are also implementing their own social distancing guidelines for essential businesses. In the Bay Area Counties such as San Francisco (see Appendix A in linked document) and Sacramento, essential businesses are required to complete and post a social distancing protocol worksheet at the jobsite. These worksheets include information about symptom checks, disinfectant availability, separation of work spaces, and other social distancing procedures.


The County of Los Angeles has issued a specific guidance for construction sites, consistent with its requirement that all essential businesses implement social distancing protocols through May 15. These recommendations include employees maintaining a minimum distance of six feet from one another when feasible, the designation of a site safety representative to ensure effective COVID-19 practices, providing personal protective equipment on site, and other recommendations. Any member of the construction industry operating in the County of Los Angeles should review the guidance.

Every essential business operating in California should review the Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, in compliance with state recommendations, and review social distancing requirements for the county and city that construction work is being performed in. The California Chamber of Commerce has compiled the various county public health websites here: (https://advocacy.calchamber.com/coronavirus-covid-19/local-health-resources/).

What Resources Should You Monitor for COVID-19 Regulatory Updates in California?

As the response to COVID-19 develops on a daily basis, we recommend a handful of websites for monitoring regulatory updates and information about best practices:

This article is intended to provide you with general information regarding the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on construction work in California. This article is not intended to provide specific legal advice. If you have any questions about the contents of this article or if you need legal advice on an issue, please contact Heffernan Law Group at contact@heffernanlawgroup.com.

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