The COVID-19 pandemic has created many challenges for policymakers across the US. One vital challenge is to decide the role of workers’ compensation in helping people who have this disease. In usual circumstances, the states apply different coverage requirements and standards that are based on occupation, industry, structure, and size of a business. Workers’ compensation is designed to help employees and employers as it provides dependable insurance coverage with timely, predictable payments and help reduce legal costs.

Besides offering zero-cost medical treatment to employees, it also offers wage replacement benefits for lost wages if a worker spent time away from work due to an illness or injury. In case a worker dies due to a condition that qualifies, the family of that worker might get financial death benefits. Usually, the decisions regarding such cases’ benefits and claims are made by judges.

Does Workers’ Compensation Cover COVID-19 in California?

Different states have a different stand on it, California has extended coverage to all workers as per Senate Bill (SB) 1159. As per this law, all the employees who suffered a COVID-19 related illness between the period of March 19, 2020, to July 5, 2020, and afterward who contracted the virus at work will get workers’ compensation if certain requirements are met. It was passed on September 17, 2020. It follows a previous executive order, N62-20 via which in which people who contracted COVID-19 via their job were eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if the following conditions were satisfied.

  • An employee tested positive for the disease within 14 days of working as per an employer’s direction and worksite.
  • An employee worked at that worksite on or after the date the law mentions, i.e., March 19, 2020.
  • The worksite was not the residence of an employee.
  • The employee tested positive within 30 days of the diagnosis that was done by a medical doctor.

As the previous executive order expired after 60 days, employees were left in limbo about workplace compensation would be available if COVID-19 related infections occurred after July 6, 2020.

The previous executive order was codified and superseded by two new statues.

The first one confirms the previous executive order and mentions that COVID-19 illnesses that occurred from March 19, 2020, to July 5, 2020, are presumed to be related to the workplace.

The second statute also applies the presumption that illnesses related to COVID-19 are work-related to employees who contract after July 5, 2020. At the same time, the statute makes it more difficult for workers to qualify for the presumption who contracted the illnesses after July 6, 2020. Some of the qualification criteria are.

  • The employee must work for an employer who has at least five employees.
  • The illness should have occurred from July 6, 2020, to December 31, 2022.
  • An employee should have diagnosed with or tested positive for COVID-19 within 14 days after a day that the employee offered services at the place of employment or any other location directed by the employer. This doesn’t include working from home or employee’s residence.
  • It is also important that the employee must have diagnosed with or tested positive during an outbreak that occurred at the place of employment. The definition of the outbreak depends on many factors like the number of employees testing positive for COVID-19, the location of the employees, and even on the fact whether the employer was ordered to halt or close the operations by a public health official.

In case an employer has less than 100 employees at a place of employment, four employees must test positive for it to be called an outbreak. Similarly, if the employer has more than 100 employees at a workplace, the positivity rate must be more than 4 percent.

A different law is meant for frontline workers like firefighters, police officers, and healthcare workers.

Can the Presumption be Rebutted?

Yes, as per the new law, the employer can provide evidence of the measures taken to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. The employer can also provide evidence regarding the non-occupational risks of an employee’s COVID-19 infection. However, the burden of proof is on the employer. Employees who fail to meet the presumption can still pursue a claim for workers’ compensation benefits as per usual rules via a preponderance of the evidence.

Workers’ Compensation and Leaves

As per new law, an employee must exhaust all paid sick leaves that were made available in response to COVID-19 before the resort to workers’ compensation. Some of the leaves are available through the California Emergency Paid Sick Leave law, federal Families First Coronavirus Recovery Act, and local paid sick leave ordinances that are specific to COVID-19.

Reporting Needs of Employers

Employers must act quickly when it comes to reporting the COVID-19 positivity tests. Each time an employee tests positive, the workers’ compensation carriers must be notified within three business days. The law mentions what should be reported and clarifies that the employer must report positive cases even if the employee is reluctant to pursue the claim or is ineligible for the same.

The Penalties

If an employer fails to report on time or submits false information, they might need to face a penalty of USD 10,000. This penalty is issued by the labor commissioner and can extend to those who are acting on behalf of the employer.

What Should an Employer Remember?

This law reminds the businesses that have even a single employee in California to carry workers’ compensation insurance. The employer should also report the cases accurately, reduce transmission at work ,and follow all cleaning and health and safety protocols. A return to work plan should also be devised to help a recovered employee join the workforce again. All these would help in preventing the claims and avoiding penalties.

Get All the Answers at Laura M. Wilson & Associates Inc.

If you have more questions regarding the question of workers compensation also applied to employees suffering from COVID-19, you can contact the team of Laura M. Wilson & Associates Inc. We have helped countless employees return to work after an injury accident, or illness. We are actively helping during the COVID-19 crisis. We can offer information on Return-to-Work Supplement Program in California, help you get a Return to Work Voucher in CA and, offer vocational rehabilitation counseling to make the journey easier. Call us toll-free on (800) 531-5608 for an obligation-free chat or book an appointment here.

References:

https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=b0436c3e-83ea-4ff7-9225-36dca46b40bd#:~:text=This%20new%20law%20serves%20as,be%20considered%20a%20workplace%20injury.

https://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/covid-19-workers-compensation.aspx

https://www.natlawreview.com/article/mother-all-presumptions-20-expanding-workers-compensation-benefits-to-employees-test