While it’s been over two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, American workers are still experiencing the fallout on a national scale.
Research shows that as many as 4 million Americans are unable to return to work due to long COVID. Chronic and debilitating symptoms have kept many employees out of the workforce without knowing when they’ll be able to return, assuming they return at all.
Some workers are fortunate enough to experience a reduction in severity of symptoms after weeks or months. For others, their post-COVID condition may be a lifelong struggle, forcing them to transition to less desirable industries or leave the workforce altogether.
Whether you are employed in a position that requires frequent exposure to the virus, worried about loss of earnings during quarantine, or concerned about the impact of COVID on your health, career, and financial security, rest assured that there are federal and state laws in place designed to protect workers and hold employers accountable. Of course, such regulations are only effective if workers know and assert their rights.
Are California workers eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if they contract COVID in the workplace? Keep reading to learn more about workers’ compensation rules for COVID-19.
Am I Eligible for Workers’ Comp if I Got COVID at Work?
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance program that California employers are required to have. The system is intended to provide compensation to employees who have lost wages or accrued medical costs as a result of an illness or injury sustained on the job.
Workers’ Compensation in California
Workers’ comp can offer a worker financial compensation without the need to prove fault or negligence on part of the employer. To qualify, an employee must prove that the illness or injury resulted from their employment and was caused by job-specific conditions.
Generally speaking, California workers can apply for workers’ comp benefits after contracting COVID-19 at work. While such benefits are available, they are often tricky to obtain. Many deserving employees are met with rejection after filing for workers’ comp as a result of COVID.
As of April 2020, a COVID-19 infection is now considered a workplace injury in California. Employers are required by law to cover qualifying employees’ expenses for medical care, loss of earnings, and even transportation expenses. While workers can’t sue an employer for a COVID infection, they can and should have access to medical treatment through their employer.
Required Safety Measures in California Workplaces
In the state of California, employers are required to maintain workplace safety by adhering to the following legal guidelines:
- Provide workers with masks or face coverings.
- Adapt workplace procedures to help prevent COVID-19 exposure.
- Create a written COVID-19 prevention program.
- Facilitate effective training for all staff members.
What Jobs Are Considered “High Risk” in California?
Not all states offer the same protection under workers’ compensation. Unlike some states, California extends certain COVID-related protections to all employees regardless of industry.
While it’s often easier to secure workers’ comp benefits as an essential worker in a “high-risk” position, including (but not limited to):
- Healthcare workers
- First responders
- Pharmacy technicians
- Delivery drivers
Put simply, any California worker is permitted to file a workers’ comp claim for COVID-19 if the employee can show that they were at an increased risk of COVID compared to the general population.
As you can imagine, this qualification isn’t limited to essential workers; rather, the majority of California employees are at a higher risk of exposure if their employer requires them to work in-person instead of remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 Laws: What California Workers Should Know
It can be hard to keep up with ever-evolving COVID-19 laws at both the state and federal levels. For the past couple of years, U.S. states have implemented and updated various COVID regulations, especially in regard to the workplace.
Currently, the following laws are in effect in California:
COVID-19 Prevention Non-Emergency Regulations
California’s COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) were recently replaced by newly adopted COVID-19 Prevention Non-Emergency Regulations, a set of laws that went into effect in January 2023. These regulations are to remain in effect for the next two years.
In 2020, California enacted AB 685, a law requiring employers to provide written notice to employees who were exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the workplace. However, in September 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsom amended and extended this bill by passing AB 2693.
Essentially, AB 2693 updated its predecessor in two ways:
- It extended elements of the former law to January 2024 instead of January 2023; and
- It provided employers with an alternative option to comply with existing regulations.
Under AB 2693, California employers are permitted to post the notification of a potential COVID exposure instead of providing written notice. Employers who choose to do so must comply with the following guidelines:
- The notice must be posted in all places where notices to employees are customarily posted. For example, if employee updates are typically posted in an online portal, the notice must be posted in the portal.
- The notice must be posted within 1 business day. The employer must post the notice to employees no later than 24 hours after receiving the information regarding an exposure.
- The notice must be provided in English and in the language understood by the majority of employees.
The notice must also include the following:
- The date(s) during which an infected employee was on workplace premises;
- The location of the exposure; and
- The name and contact information of an employer representative that employees may call for more information. This may include information regarding benefits and anti-retaliation/anti-discrimination protections under federal and state laws.
Workers’ Compensation Presumption (SB 1159)
SB 1159 created two contestable presumptions that apply to COVID-19 illnesses contracted by certain employees in the workplace, including:
- The first presumption applies to COVID workers’ comp claims filed by peace officers, firefighters, first responders, and healthcare workers.
- The second presumption applies to employers with 5+ employees who test positive for COVID-19 during an outbreak in the actual workplace.
Note that “outbreak” entails a certain number of employees testing positive for COVID during a consecutive 14-day period. The employer may rebut such claims if they can provide evidence that they’ve taken reasonable measures to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace.
Reliable Representation for Workers in California
Regardless of an employee’s immigration status, industry, or occupation, any California worker is eligible to file a workers’ comp claim after contracting COVID-19 at work. However, succeeding at this task is often easier said than done.
Our Orange County workers’ compensation lawyers have over 75 years of collective experience defending the rights of wronged employees throughout Los Angeles and Orange County. If you’re a California worker who has faced financial, economic, and personal repercussions as a result of COVID-19 in your place of work, you deserve dependable legal representation.
Our compassionate team at Alvandi Law Group has recovered over half a billion dollars on behalf of our clients. You can count on our dedicated legal advocates to adopt your personal goals as their own while guiding your legal steps with wisdom and integrity. If you’ve been unfairly treated as a result of COVID-19, act now to obtain the justice you deserve.
If you’re a California worker who contracted COVID-19 or long COVID in the workplace, you may be entitled to compensation. Call (800) 980-6905 or contact us online to discuss your case with a skilled workers’ comp attorney.