A coalition of farm and business groups filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles on Thursday challenging an emergency regulation recently adopted by the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board.

In an effort to protect workers during COVID-19 outbreaks, the regulation places responsibility on employers for developing a prevention plan, correcting hazards in the workplace, investigating cases and immediately notifying employees who may have been exposed.

The complaint alleges the board lacks the authority to impose many of the sweeping measures.

Dave Puglia, president and CEO of Western Growers, said in a statement that despite the best efforts of employers to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, the virus has continued to spread.

“The board imposed unrealistic, unfounded and economically harmful standards in total disregard of these realities,” he said. “We have no choice but to seek judicial relief.”

Along with Western Growers, the California Farm Bureau, the California Business Roundtable, the California Association of Winegrape Growers, the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California and the Ventura County Agricultural Association are co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

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The plaintiffs claim the board rushed the rulemaking process, offering little public notice or opportunity to comment despite taking nine months to approve the new standards. The complaint states the regulation “does not solve a crisis as much as it creates one.” The groups also disagree with how the emergency standards shift the responsibility and costs for monitoring and investigating virus spread onto businesses already struggling under the impacts of the pandemic.

“These regulations will disrupt food supply operations all along the line, but it will be especially hard on our 20,000 small family farming members,” said Jamie Johansson, President of the California Farm Bureau, arguing the rule was “handed down by fiat instead of going through a deliberate regulatory process.”

The plaintiffs allege the regulation would reduce housing availability for agricultural workers, impacting vulnerable farmworker communities and harming rural economies.

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