Earlier this spring, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order that made it easier for essential workers who contracted COVID-19 at work to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. Under the executive order, employees sick with COVID-19 could stay home from work to reduce the spread of the virus while collecting medical and wage replacement benefits. An employer could rebut a COVID-19 workers’ compensation claim, but he or she had to prove that the worker did not contract the virus on the job.
This executive order expired on July 5, 2020, leaving many frontline employees concerned about how they would pay their medical bills and support their families if they contracted COVID-19 at work. While the threat of coronavirus is far from over, California essential workers no longer need to worry about their financial security if they test positive for COVID-19.
Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed a new workers’ compensation bill into law (Senate Bill 1159) that makes first responders and healthcare workers eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if they get infected while on the job. The bill is effective immediately and retroactive to July 6, 2020.
ESSENTIAL WORKERS PROTECTED UNDER SENATE BILL 1159 INCLUDE:
- Active firefighters
- Fire and rescue service coordinators
- Peace officers
- Employees who provide direct patient care at healthcare facilities
- Employees who provide direct patient care for home health agencies
- Other employees at healthcare facilities
- Providers of in-home supportive services outside of their own homes
- Healthcare custodial employees in contact with COVID-19 patients
- Authorized registered nurses
- Emergency medical technicians
WHAT ABOUT OTHER NON-FRONTLINE WORKERS?
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order N-62-20 provided protection to all California employees required to work at a jobsite outside of their homes between March 19, 2020 and July 5, 2020. Under the executive order, any worker who tested positive for COVID-19 within 14 days of working at their jobsite was presumed to have contracted the illness at work and was thus eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
Under the new COVID-19 workers’ comp law, non-frontline workers are only offered the same level of protection if certain conditions are met:
- The employee tests positive for COVID-19 within 14 days after working at his or her jobsite and at his or her employer’s direction.
- The date the employee performed the work was on or after July 6, 2020.
- The positive test occurred during an “outbreak” at the employee’s specific place of employment.
The definition of an outbreak, according to the new COVID-19 workers’ comp law, depends on the number of employees at a given place of employment. An outbreak would occur if, within 14 days, one of the following conditions is met:
- An employer with 5 to 100 employees reports at least four positive COVID-19 tests.
- An employer with more than 100 employees reports at least four percent of employees as positive for COVID-19.
- A specific place of employment is ordered to close due to a risk of infection with COVID 19.
ASSEMBLY BILL 685
Another new COVID-19 law to be aware of is Assembly Bill 685. This law requires employers to provide written notice to workers who may have been exposed to the virus and to contact local public health officials. Assembly Bill 685 includes both employees and subcontractors so that all workers can choose to stay home, get tested, and protect themselves and their families if they are exposed. This new law also allows state regulators to penalize employers if workplace violations are discovered over the next two years.
WHAT IF I CONTRACTED COVID-19 AT WORK AND THESE LAWS AREN’T APPLICABLE TO ME?
The new COVID-19 workers’ comp laws were designed to protect essential workers from the financial consequences of contracting COVID-19 at work. But, make no mistake. They were also implemented to protect employers with a lower risk of infection from paying for non-work related COVID-19 cases. This leaves many California workers including grocery store employees, retail workers, restaurant servers, and other hardworking individuals in a vulnerable position.
If you do not qualify for the presumption under the new COVID-19 workers’ comp law and you contracted COVID-19 at work, you may still be able to receive workers’ compensation benefits. You will need to meet certain requirements and file the proper paperwork on time, though, so we strongly advise speaking with a workers’ compensation attorney who can guide you through the process.
At The Law Office of Matthew Russell, our workers’ comp lawyers are well versed on the new COVID-19 workers’ comp laws and know the exact requirements needed for a successful claim. Call us today at 619-528-9800 for a free, no-risk consultation.