As California workplaces are hit with coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers are updating laws to help ensure that more and more employees who have COVID-19 are covered. One of such useful laws that will help California workers to get better protection and justice if they get infected at work is Senate Bill 1159. Scroll down to know everything you need to know about SB 1159 (Hill).

What Will It Do?

The SB 1159 will add coronavirus-related illness or coronavirus-related death to the list of on the job injuries that are covered as per the Workers’ Compensation program of the state. It will also remove a requirement that asks workers to prove that they contracted the deadly virus on the job only. Now, employers must prove that the deadly virus was not contracted at the workplace if they want to deny the coverage. The Bill got its final form on August 24 this year, and Governor Gavin Newsom has signed it on September 17.

The Objections

As expected, the Bill was opposed by business groups that said that the laws were unworkable for the employers. They were okay with first responders, healthcare workers and other high-risk groups getting the coverage. They objected to all the rest getting covered by these laws too and expressed their opinions via a letter to State Legislature in August. But Newsom, who is a democrat signed it anyway during a Zoom Call with supporters which included labor unions and members as well. The Bill is authored by Jerry Hill, a democratic State Senator. Newsom also signed a bill AB 685 that requires companies to tell workers regarding the coronavirus exposure at a workplace.

The Exceptions

One of the laws which makes people with coronavirus eligible for workers’ compensation benefits has taken effect immediately and applies to all the workers present in the state. However, it treats first responders like firefighters, police officers and healthcare workers differently than other employees. The first responders and the healthcare workers will be eligible if they get infected while they are on the job. The rest of the workers will be eligible only if their workplace has experienced an outbreak or has four or more infected workers who were working at the same location within two weeks. If a company has more than 100 employees, an outbreak will be defined as a minimum of 4 percent of people working at the same location getting infected within two weeks.

The Expiry Date

The rules for healthcare workers and first responders are permanent, but for the rest of the employees, the rules expire on January 1, 2023.

The Rising Cases

The need for SB 1159 had been rising with time. It is a good decision that will help people who hope to restore their lives by seeking Vocational Rehabilitation Services and return to work sometime after coronavirus made them lose their job or impacted their health.

The timing of the Bill was quite good as workers’ compensation claims for COVID-19 have risen steadily. They were about 4,700 in May, 10,900 in June and 11,600 in July. This data was provided by the California Department of Industrial Relations that is responsible for overseeing the program.

The Cost

The rising number of claims might cost a lot to employers. As per projections shared by the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau of California, these claims might cost over USD 2 billion to employers and their insurers.

As per law, California employers need to pay for workers’ compensation coverage that provides wage and medical benefits to the injured workers. It also pays death benefits to the families of people who are killed on the job. More than 140 workers’ families had applied for death benefits in August as per data collected by the institute, and this number will likely grow as long as the cases spike.

Health care workers filed about 40 percent of the COVID-19 claims. About 30 percent of claims were made collectively by retail employees, government workers, and manufacturing workers. Imperial County had the highest rate of COVID-19 related workers compensation claims as of August.

Final Words

It is quite clear that SB 1159 (Hill) is a necessary bill in these testing times and it is hoped it will help people who have lost their jobs or health due to the coronavirus pandemic. If you or a loved one is also affected by it, you can get professional help at Laura M. Wilson & Associates Inc. As a vocational rehabilitation counselor in CA, we provide vocational rehabilitation services in California to people who want to return to work and be independent again. Call us on 800-531-5608 to know how we can help!