The start of 2021 has brought new laws across California that require businesses to do more to protect their employees from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. With December being the deadliest month of the pandemic so far, legislators and corporations alike have felt increasing pressure to do more to stop the spread of COVID-19 and encourage safer or remote workplaces.
Two of the most important pandemic-related legal updates are:
- Improved sick leave opportunities: Senate Bill 1383 requires companies with at least 5 employees to give 12 weeks of unpaid but job-protected sick leave to care for a family member who has fallen ill with any severe sickness, including COVID-19. Before this update, only employers with 50 or more employees had to provide this sort of sick leave coverage. The change also makes it so a “family member” can be a grandparent, grandchild, sibling, or in-law, not just spouses, parents, and children.
- Outbreak reports: Assembly Bill 685 seeks to penalize companies that conceal information about outbreaks among their employees. Cal/OSHA had previously reported in November that it had reason to suspect that an inordinate amount of California businesses was falsifying employee virus records or intentionally delaying outbreak reports, which put both workers and customers in danger. With the legal update, businesses need to tell employees about possible exposure from a coworker within one business day of the company becoming aware of the issue. Within the notification, employers must also re-inform employees about their workers’ comp and sick leave benefits, as well as provide information about virus safety protocols. AB 685 also lets Cal/OSHA close a workplace that is violating COVID-19 safety measures immediately before conducting a more thorough safety inspection.
There are also reports of another bill being worked on that would make it easier for certain workers to regain employment after being laid off due to pandemic-related downsizing. The bill would require some larger employers to prioritize rehiring based on an applicant’s former seniority at the company. Such measures have not been implemented yet in 2021, but they could come with the next round of legislation.
Workers’ Comp for Workers Exposed to COVID
California Senate Bill 1159 passed in September 2020, and it is still effective until January 2023. This bill allows employees who become sick with the coronavirus to file for workers’ compensation in acknowledgment that exposure to the virus is a form of occupational illness. Claims filed in this way can use a rebuttable presumption that states it can be reasonably assumed the claimant contracted the virus at work. The insurance company has an opportunity to challenge the presumption, but it must be prepared to provide convincing evidence that shows the claimant could have likely been exposed to the coronavirus elsewhere.
SB 1159 only applies to first responders, healthcare workers, and employees working for a company with 5 or more employees. There must also be a measurable outbreak at the claimant’s workplace for the rebuttable presumption to apply. When 4 or 4% of all employees – whichever number is greater – test positive for COVID-19 within 14 days, it can be considered an outbreak.As can be seen, the details of SB 1159 can make it difficult to understand if you can get workers’ compensation after a coronavirus diagnosis. The situation will only be more difficult if an insurance company or employer wants to interfere. If you live in Orange County and need help seeing if you can get workers’ comp following a COVID diagnosis, call (800) 980-6905 and connect with Alvandi Law Group, P.C. Our COVID claim attorneys can help you figure out your options, starting with an initial consultation.