Since August, California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed many pieces of legislation into law on varied topics. (As reported in this blog, one law related to state paid sick leave requirements, while another defined worker classification determinations.) On September 17th, 2020, Governor Newsom continued this trend of signing new employment law legislation. These specific bills, however, expanded employee protections as they relate to COVID-19.

Notice Requirements for Potential COVID-19 Exposure

Effective immediately, California Assembly Bill (AB) 685 requires employers to provide employees with notice of possible exposure to COVID-19. These cases would meet the definition of a “serious occupational injury or illness.” Due to this definition, employers would also notify the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA).

Under AB 685, Cal/OSHA is authorized to act when employees’ exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace is an “imminent hazard.” The agency may issue citations, bar access to the worksite, shut down operations, and require employer postings disclosing the hazard.

Employers must also contact their local public health department if the number of COVID-19 cases constitutes a COVID-19 outbreak. The California State Department of Public Health defines what that outbreak number is. In this situation, employers have 48 hours to notify the public health department. At that time, they must provide:

  • the number of COVID-19 cases at the workplace;
  • employee names;
  • and other pertinent information.

Employers must provide the written exposure notice within one business day to those affected. Notice to the employees’ representative (if any) is also required. Employers need to keep the records of written notifications for a minimum of three years.

Expanding Workers’ Compensation for Frontline Workers

Also effective September 17th, 2020, California Senate Bill (SB) 1159 expands first responders’ workers’ compensation access, due to COVID-19. The law presumes that a first responder’s COVID-19-related illness or death is due to the scope of their employment. This presumption applies to employees:

  • who test positive during a COVID-19 outbreak at their “specific place of employment”* and
  • whose employer has at least five employees.

*This excludes an employee’s home or residence (unless the employee performs home health care services at a home or residence).

In addition:

  • The employee must test positive for COVID-19 within 14 days after a day the employee worked.
  • The day of work must have been on or after July 6th, 2020.

An employer may dispute a claim with evidence that:

  • it implemented measures to reduce potential worksite COVID-19 transmission;
  • the employee had non-occupational risks of COVID-19 infection;
  • the employee made damaging statements; and
  • the employer has any other evidence that they would normally use to dispute an alleged work-related injury.

Employer Takeaways

Even though the laws discussed in this post are specific to California, employers in all states should be familiar with possible COVID-19 related local laws affecting them. California employers should review and revise their policies on illness reporting and workers’ compensation, if needed. Employers should also address any questions stemming from these new laws with their legal counsel.