New California Laws Related to Workers’ Compensation and Workplace Notices Expand COVID-19 Relief for Workers

New California Laws Related to Workers’ Compensation and Workplace Notices Expand COVID-19 Relief for Workers

On September 17, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law two worker protection bills, AB 685 and SB 1159.  AB 685 creates new requirements for employers to notify local and state public health officials of COVID-19 cases in the workplace.  SB 1159 expands access to workers’ compensation to certain first responders, health care workers, and employees who test positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) due to an outbreak at work. 

AB 685 provides that if an employer receives notice that an individual who tested positive for COVID-19 or is subjected to an isolation order was in the workplace while considered potentially infectious, the employer must provide notice to all workers within one business day of potential exposure to COVID-19.  The notice must contain information about COVID-19 related benefits the employees are entitled to and include the employer’s disinfection and safety plan.  Employers must also notify local public health officials within 48 hours of “outbreaks” in the workplace, as defined by the State Department of Public Health.  AB 685 takes effect in January 2021.  There are exceptions to these reporting requirements for certain employees, including, but not limited to, some health care workers who work directly with COVID-19 patients. 

AB 685 also gives the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health authority to shut down businesses it believes are exposing workers to the risk of infection to the point that there is an imminent hazard to employees.

 SB 1159 creates a presumption that a covered worker’s illness or death from COVID-19 is work-related and entitles them to workers’ compensation.  Employers have the burden of rebutting this presumption by pointing to measures they have taken to reduce the potential transmission of COVID-19.  For workers in health care facilities who do not provide direct patient care (and custodial employees of health care facilities), there is no presumption if the employer can show that the employee did not come into contact with a patient who tested positive in the last 14 days. 

In addition to first responders and health care workers, the law also applies to workers who test positive for COVID-19 during an outbreak at their workplace, as defined by the bill.  SB 1159 took effect immediately upon signing. 

The rebuttable presumption under the law remains in effect until January 2023.  Governor Newsom said in an announcement that the legislation “will help California workers stay safe at work and get the support they need if they are exposed to COVID-19.”

California employers must prepare to respond to any indication that an employee has contracted COVID-19 in the workplace.  For more information about COVID-19 employer obligations, you may contact the Minami Tamaki Coronavirus (COVID-19) Task Force online or call us at 415-788-9000.

*The contents of this article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  Information in this article may not constitute the most complete or up-to-date legal or other information.  Readers should contact a licensed California attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. Use of this website does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Minami Tamaki LLP.

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