California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed Senate Bill (SB) 1159, which adds COVID-19-related illness or death to the list of injuries covered under the state’s workers’ compensation program and creates new employer reporting responsibilities. The law codifies and extends Executive Order N-62-20, which was issued on May 6, 2020 and created a rebuttable presumption that employees with a COVID-19-related illness on or before July 5, 2020 contracted the virus at work and were eligible for workers’ compensation. The new law is retroactive to July 6, 2020 and expires on January 1, 2023.
Disputable Presumption for COVID-19 Cases During Workplace “Outbreaks”
Workers’ compensation generally provides benefits for employees who are injured or become ill in the course of their employment. Given the wide reach of COVID-19, however, it may be difficult to identify where the employee was exposed to the coronavirus for the purposes of showing that their exposure was caused by and arose out of their employment. In California, however, SB 1159 creates a “disputable presumption” that a COVID-19-related illness arose out of and in the course of employment, and is thus compensable, for employees who test positive during a COVID-19 “outbreak” at the employee’s “specific place of employment,” and whose employer has five or more employees. The new law specifies that workers’ compensation awarded for COVID-19 claims includes “full hospital, surgical, medical treatment, disability indemnity, and death benefits.”