California: New COVID-19 Laws Expands Workers’ Comp Coverage, Rapid Notice Requirements


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On September 17, 2020, Governor Newsom signed AB 685 and SB 1159 into law.  Both pieces of legislation are COVID-19 related.  AB 685 imposes new rapid reporting requirements for COVID-19 cases in the workplace, and SB 1159 expands availability of workers’ compensation coverage for COVID illnesses for certain employees.

AB 685: COVID-19 Reporting. Effective from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2022, AB 685 requires any employer who receives notice of even potential exposure to COVID to take the following steps within one business day of receipt of the notice:

  1. Provide written notice to all employees and employers of subcontracted employees, who were on premises at the same worksite as the individual with COVID-19 exposure, within the infectious period. The written notice should indicate that the individuals may have been exposed to COVID and must be delivered in the manner normally used to communicate employment-related information, such as hand delivery, e-mail, or text message.
  2. Provide written notice to the exclusive representative, if any, of the employees, containing the same information required to be reported in the Cal-OSHA Form 300 injury and illness log, regardless of whether or not the employer is ordinarily required to maintain the 300 log.
  3. Provide all employees and their exclusive representative any information related to COVID-19 benefits to which the employees may be entitled under federal, state, or local laws. This may include workers’ compensation, COVID-related leave, sick leave, state or federal mandated leave, and anti-retaliation/discrimination protections.
  4. Notify all employees, employers of subcontracted employees, and their exclusive representative on disinfection/safety plan(s) the employer will implement, per the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines.

The above reporting requirements do not apply to employees who conduct COVID testing/screening, or provide direct care or treatment to individuals who have tested positive, are seeking confirmation, or are in quarantine or isolation related to COVID, as part of their job duties.

If the number of reported cases meet the definition of a COVID-19 outbreak per the State Department of Public Health, employers have additional reporting obligations to their local public health agency, which must be completed within 48 hours.

SB 1159 Workers’ Compensation Expansion. As of September 17, 2020, SB 1159 extends a prior Executive Order that allowed employees who work outside home to collect workers’ compensation benefits for illness/injury associated with contracting COVID-19.  The Executive Order was set to end July 6, 2020, but SB 1159 extends the presumption that the COVID-19 illness/injury is work related for certain classes of workers through December 31, 2022.

Employers of five or more employees are required to provide their workers’ compensation carrier with information about employees who test positive for COVID-19 since July 6, 2020 within the next 30 days.  Going forward, employers will also be required to report to their workers’ comp carrier within three days of learning that an employee has tested positive, and must provide the date of the test, the place the employee worked for the 14 days prior, and the number of employees at each place the employee worked for the prior 45 days.

Employees diagnosed with COVID-19 between March 19 and July 5, 2020 are eligible for workers’ compensation coverage if the COVID-19 related illness occurred within 14 days after the last day the individual worked.  Employers will have 30 days to accept or deny the claim.

Employees diagnosed with COVID-19 on or after July 6, 2020 will be handled depending on which of two categories they fall under:

  • First responders/healthcare professionals: Workers in this category who test positive on or after July 6, 2020 and within 14 days of their last day of work may make a claim. Employers have 30 days after the claim is made to accept or deny the claim; if the claim is not rejected within 30 days, it is presumed compensable and can only be rebutted by evidence discovered after the 30-day period.  Employees working from home do not qualify in this category unless they are providers of in-home supportive services.
  • Employees testing positive during an outbreak: Employees who work for an employer of five or more, and who test positive during an outbreak after July 5, 2020, may file a claim for which the employer has 45 days to accept or deny. Similar to the above, if the claim is not rejected within 45 days, it is presumed compensable and can only be rebutted by evidence discovered after the 45-day period.

Action Items

  1. Implement required reporting procedures, including an employee notice of exposure.
  2. Update workers’ comp claims procedures.
  3. Train managing staff members on timing and notice requirements in the event COVID-19 exposure is reported.
  4. Subscribers can call our HR On-Call Hotline at (888) 378-2456 for further assistance.

Disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance concerning employment-related issues. It is presented with the understanding that ManagEase is not engaged in rendering any legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please contact the services of your own legal adviser.

© 2020 ManagEase

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