Newsom Greenlights More COVID-19 Relief For Calif. Workers
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Law360 (September 17, 2020, 10:12 PM EDT) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed off on two bills Thursday imposing new notice requirements on employers experiencing a coronavirus outbreak and extending a policy that makes it easier for frontline workers to receive workers’ compensation if they get COVID-19.
The governor said in his 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.” The laws come on the heels of other worker-focused bills Newsom has signed recently, including for paid sick leave.
SB 1159, introduced by California Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, creates a presumption that a covered worker’s illness or death from COVID-19 is work-related and entitles them to workers’ compensation, putting the onus on their employer to rebut the presumption.
Employers can do so by pointing to measures they took to reduce the potential transmission of the disease or showing a worker’s nonoccupational risks of COVID-19 infection, the bill said. For workers in health care facilities, there is no presumption if the employer can show they didn’t come into contact with a patient who tested positive in the last 14 days.
In addition to first responders and those in the health care field, the law also applies to workers who test positive during an outbreak at their workplace, as defined by the bill.
The rebuttable presumption created under the law will remain in place until January 2023. Newsom had previously established a temporary rebuttable presumption in an executive order in May that expired in July.
AB 685, introduced by California Assemblymember Eloise Gómez Reyes, D-San Bernardino, requires employers to notify workers within one business day of receiving notice of a potential exposure to COVID-19. Employers must also notify local public health officials within 48 hours if the number of cases they have meets the state’s definition of an outbreak.
“COVID-19 infections and deaths disproportionately affect the Latino, Black, and Asian Pacific Islander communities. Communities that make up the majority of our state’s low-wage workers,” Reyes said. “By notifying the public and workers of potential exposures as required under AB 685 we allow workers to take appropriate steps to protect themselves and their loved ones while also bolstering the response of public health officials.”
The law also gives the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health explicit authority to shut down businesses it believes are exposing their workers to risk of infection to the point that they’re an imminent hazard to employees.
SB 1159 took effect immediately as an urgency statute, but AB 685 won’t take effect until January.
Earlier in September, Newsom signed a paid sick leave law that gives all California workers who test positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to the novel coronavirus that causes the disease access to paid sick time for the rest of 2020.
His office said the law “closes the gaps in paid sick days” that exists between the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and Newsom’s prior executive order by including large employers with over 500 workers as well as public and private entities that employ first responders and health care workers and chose not to cover their employees under the federal law.
–Editing by Daniel King.
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