California has now enacted a presumption to its workers’ compensation laws to the effect that an employee’s COVID-19 illness or death is a compensable occupational illness or disease that can arise in the course and scope of an employee’s job. Governor Newsome signed SB 1159 into law on September 17, 2020. The presumption is rebuttable by the employing entity, but there must be sufficient evidence that:
- Sufficient measures were put in place to reduce transmission of the virus at work, and/or
- The risk of the employee becoming infected was incurred away from his or her place of work.
The Rebuttal Limitation Period
Employers have 30 days to accept or deny a COVID-19 claim. Failure to deny the claim within the 30 -day period will trigger the presumption. Then, the employer can only rebut the presumption with evidence discovered beyond the 30-day period. The limitation period for employees who might otherwise avail themselves to the presumption is 45 days. Looking back, employees who are infected with COVID-19 on or after July 6, 2020, can claim that the infection was acquired in the course and scope of their employment.
The Outbreak Requirement
The presumption that a COVID-19 infection is compensable arises if there was an outbreak of the virus at a specific place of employment within 14 days of any of the following events:
- If an employer had 100 employees or less, and 4 employees test positive for the virus.
- If an employer has more than 100 employees and 4% test positive for COVID-19.
- If state or local authorities or a school superintendent orders a specific place of employment to close as a result of the risk of COVID-19 infection.
Specific Places of Employment
As per SB 1159, a specific place of employment contemplates “the building, store, facility or agricultural field where an employee performs work at the employer’s direction.” Unless an employee provides home health care services at the employee’s home or residence, those places are excluded.
The Reporting Requirement
If an employee is tested for COVID-19, and the employer knows or reasonably should know about the positive result, the employer is required to notify its claims administrator in writing of the result within three business days. The employer is prohibited from disclosing the employee’s identity unless the employee has alleged that transmission of the virus was work-related. The employer must report the following information though:
- That an employee tested positive for COVID-19.
- The date that the employee was determined to be positive pursuant to testing.
- The address(es) of the employer’s specific place of employment for the 14-day period prior to positive testing.
- The largest number of employees who showed up at work at the employer’s specific place of employment in the 45-day span before the employee worked at each specific place of employment.
If any employer “intentionally submits false or misleading information or fails to submit information,” SB 1159 imposes a penalty of $10,000.
Employee Paid Vacation Time
Pursuant to SB 1159, an employee must exhaust any sick pay benefits before workers’ compensation benefits will be paid. The employee must also meet specific certification requirements.
Both employers and their insurers will be scrutinizing COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims for any indications that a claimant contracted the virus outside of the course and scope of his or her employment. If you believe that you were infected with COVID-19 at work in or around Sacramento, report the condition to your supervisor or employer right away by submitting a DWC-1 form. Retain a copy of your completed form and seek immediate medical attention. Then, contact us for a free consultation and case review with an experienced and dedicated Sacramento workers’ compensation lawyer. If we enter into a retainer agreement with you, our objective will be to obtain the maximum workers’ compensation settlement or award that you deserve.