Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new workers’ compensation presumption law Thursday, that will expand access to workers’ compensation for front-line workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and those who encounter an “outbreak” in the workplace.
Senate Bill 1159 creates a rebuttable presumption of infection for people like grocery store employees, health care workers, firefighters and law enforcement officers who believe they contracted the coronavirus at work. The new law also creates a presumption of infection whenever there is a workplace outbreak over a two-week span of time.
SB 1159 is effect immediately as an urgency statute and will remain in effect through Jan. 1, 2023.
SB 1159 imposes an onerous administrative burden on California employers, and their workers’ compensation claim administrators.
The third category of presumptions – the outbreak group (L.C. 3212.88) – works administratively by requiring every employer in the state with five or more employees to report information about any employee who tests positive for COVID-19, to their workers’ compensation claims administrator within three days.
The workers’ compensation claim administrator must use this information to keep a count on COVID-19 testing at each site location, and when the criteria of 4 or more (or 4% of the workforce) in 14 days is met, apply the presumption to the “outbreak group” of cases reported during that 14 day window.
There is a $10,000 penalty for failure to meet the three day reporting requirement or to provide a fraudulent report.
This new law applies “retroactively” to pending claims, which means that employers and claim administrators have to go back in time and collect this data from millions of California employers of more than 5 people immediately. They have 30 calendar days to report on the retroactive claims now that the bill has been signed.
In terms of the employers of first responder employees (L.C. 3212.87 the second group), although L.C. 3212.87 does not have a specific reporting requirement, those .
While for example a peace officer is not in the third “outbreak group” they may work side-by-side with non first responders.
It would appear reasonable that counting positive tests of first responders who work in the same setting as non-first responders would be an obligation in terms of applying the presumption standard to the outbreak group.
Newsom also signed a new law that will require employers to report coronavirus outbreaks to their local public health department within 48 hours and to employees who may have been exposed within one business day.
Assembly Bill 685 also gives the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) the authority to close a worksite or place of employment that is actively exposing workers to the risk of contracting the virus.
AB 685 will also remain in effect through Jan. 1, 2023.