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COVID-19 Workplace Bills Enter Final Weeks of Deliberation

By Kristin Withrow posted 08-17-2020 05:00 PM


Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Gavin Newsom and the State Legislature have been determined to address the issue of employees becoming ill and the role of employers in providing safe work environments and access to care. As the August 31 legislative deadline to pass bills in 2020 quickly approaches, CSDA is actively engaged on several key bills seeking to address these issues that have yet to be finalized and continue to be amended.

COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation Presumption: SB 1159 (Hill)

SB 1159 establishes a rebuttable presumption for employees contracting COVID-19 to access the workers’ compensation system under three distinct scenarios:

Executive Order: The first section codifies Governor Newsom’s executive order (N-61-20) which created a rebuttable presumption whereby any employee that tested positive for COVID-19 or was diagnosed with COVID-19 and confirmed by a positive test within 14 days of performing a labor or service at a place of work outside their home at the direction of their employer after the stay at home order was issued on March 19, 2020, and prior to July 6, that the illness was a result of their work outside their home and would be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

First Responders: The second section of SB 1159, as currently drafted, would create a rebuttable presumption for first responders (police, fire and healthcare workers), whereby if they become ill with COVID-19 after working outside their homes between now and July 1, 2024, that the illness is presumed to have been contracted at work and therefore would be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

Other Employees: The third section of the bill is the section of bill that is least developed at this point. The bill was recently amended to say, in part, that “[i]t is the intent of the Legislature to develop policies and procedures to create a disputable workers’ compensation presumption for employees who are diagnosed with COVID-19 as a part of an outbreak at a specific place of employment.” The State Legislature plans to amend this section of the bill by August 31 to create cluster-based presumption that triggers a workers’ compensation presumption for COVID-19 based on an outbreak at a specific workplace.

Employee Notifications of COVID-19 Exposure: AB 685 (Reyes)

AB 685 places numerous requirements on employers regarding notifying employees and various state agencies about employees that become ill with or have been exposed to COVID-19. This bill, like SB 1159, continues to be a work-in-progress and is expected to be amended before the August 31 legislative deadline. As currently drafted, the bill would require that, if an employee is exposed to COVID-19, an employer must take all of the following actions within 24 hours from when the employer knew or reasonably should have known of exposure to the employee: 

  1. Provide a notice to all employees at the worksite where the exposure occurred that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. This notification shall be, at a minimum, in writing in both English and the language understood by the majority of the employees. Employers shall also make every reasonable effort necessary to notify workers verbally.
  2. Notify the employee’s union, if any.
  3. Notify all employees and the union, if any, of options for exposed employees including COVID-19-related leave, company sick leave, state-mandated leave, supplemental sick leave, or negotiated leave provisions.
  4. Notify all employees and the union, if any, on the cleaning and disinfecting plan that the employer plans to implement prior to resuming work.
  5. Notify the Division of Occupational Safety and Health of the number of employees by occupation with a COVID-19 positive test, diagnosis, order to quarantine, or death that could be COVID-19 related.
  6. Notify the California Department of Public Health and the appropriate local public health agency of the number of employees by occupation with a COVID-19 positive test, diagnosis, order to quarantine, or death that could be COVID-19 related.

The author of AB 685 has acknowledged that a number of the provisions of the bill are unworkable or unreasonable as they are currently drafted. Nonetheless, the author is resolved to amend and pass a bill that will place new notification requirements on employers to ensure employees are well informed on matters of workplace safety related to COVID-19.

The most up to date information regarding SB 1159 and AB 685 amendments will be sent out through CSDA’s Advocacy News Community. If you haven’t already signed up to receive those email updates, at a frequency of your choosing, you can do so at