Under the direction of Governor Gavin Newsom, the California Department of Public Health has issued revised statewide guidance requiring cloth face coverings in most public settings in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. The guidance supersedes previous California Department of Public Health guidance that only recommended, but did not mandate, face coverings.

When Must Face Coverings Be Worn in California?

The updated guidance, effective June 18, 2020, now mandates that individuals wear face coverings when:

  • Inside of, or in line to enter, any indoor public space (unless exempted by state guidelines for specific public settings).
  • Obtaining services from the healthcare sector in settings including, but not limited to, a hospital, pharmacy, medical clinic, laboratory, physician or dental office, veterinary clinic, or blood bank.
  • Waiting for or riding on public transportation or paratransit or while in a taxi, private car service, or ride-sharing vehicle.
  • Engaged in work, whether at the workplace or off-site, when:
    • Interacting in-person with any member of the public;
    • Working in any space visited by members of the public, regardless of whether anyone from the public is present at the time;
    • Working in any space where food is prepared or packaged for sale or distribution to others;
    • Working in or walking through common areas, such as hallways, stairways, elevators, and parking facilities; or
    • In any room or enclosed area where other people (except for members of the person’s own household or residence) are present when unable to physically distance.
  • Driving or operating any public transportation or paratransit vehicle, taxi, or private car service or ride-sharing vehicle when passengers are present. Face coverings are strongly recommended even when no passengers are present.
  • While outdoors in public spaces and maintaining a physical distance of six feet from persons who are not members of the same household or residence is not feasible.

The guidance is silent as to whether businesses are required to enforce the face covering guidance as to customers, vendors, visitors, or patrons.


The mandate exempts the following individuals: 

  • Persons age two years or under.
  • Persons with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a face covering.
  • Persons who are hearing impaired, or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
  • Persons for whom wearing a face covering would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.
  • Persons who are obtaining a service involving the nose or face for which temporary removal of the face covering is necessary to perform the service.
  • Persons who are seated at a restaurant or other establishment that offers food or beverage service, while they are eating or drinking, provided that they are able to maintain a distance of at least six feet from persons who are not members of the same household or residence.
  • Persons who are engaged in outdoor work or recreation such as swimming, walking, hiking, bicycling, or running, when alone or with household members, and when they are able to maintain a distance of at least six feet from others.
  • Persons who are incarcerated. Prisons and jails, as part of their mitigation plans, will have specific guidance on the wearing of face coverings or masks for both inmates and staff.

Employees in jobs involving regular contact with others, if exempted from the order due to a medical condition, should wear a non-restrictive alternative, such as a face shield with a drape on the bottom edge, to the extent that their condition permits it.

What Does This Mean for California Employers?

If not already doing so, employers must start requiring employees to wear a face covering while engaged in any of the activities specifically delineated by the order, including when employees: interact with colleagues, walk or work in common areas, or work in any room or enclosed area with other employees.

Employers should make face coverings available to employees who do not have one and advise employees on how to care for a face covering. Employers that require employees to bring their own masks should reimburse the expense. See our blog on this and other California reopening issues.

Guidance on Face Coverings

Additional guidance on face coverings is available from the CDC (here), the California Department of Public Health (here), and the County of Los Angeles (here).

Moving Forward

Davis Wright Tremaine attorneys remain available to help California employers comply with this order and any other such orders issued in response to COVID-19. Updated information will be provided as it becomes available, including any changes to guidance issued by the California Department of Public Health.

The facts, laws, and regulations regarding COVID-19 are developing rapidly. Since the date of publication, there may be new or additional information not referenced in this advisory. Please consult with your legal counsel for guidance.

DWT will continue to provide up-to-date insights and virtual events regarding COVID-19 concerns. Our most recent insights, as well as information about recorded and upcoming virtual events, are available at www.dwt.com/COVID-19.