Governor Gavin Newsom on September 17, 2020, signed SB 1159 which codifies the COVID-19 presumption created by Executive Order N-62-20 and provides two new rebuttable presumptions that an employee’s COVID-19 illness is an occupational injury and therefore eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if specified criteria are met. Employees who are sick can stay home and be provided workers’ compensation benefits, thereby reducing the spread of the virus to others at work and in the community. The new law encourages employers to comply with all local health directives and guidance concerning safely reopening businesses to reduce risk of exposure and mitigate outbreaks in the workplace.
Some people have been reporting to work throughout the entire pandemic, while others are adjusting to a recent return or are getting ready to go back. As California slowly reopens, many people have been wondering about their rights to workers’ compensation benefits if they contract COVID-19 due to workplace exposure. In May, Governor Gavin Newsome made it much easier for employees required to work out of the house to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits for coronavirus treatment.
COVID-19 Resources and Workers’ Compensation
Proving a Workplace Illness
While workers’ compensation is most often associated with accidents and injuries on the job, this coverage can apply to work-related illnesses, as well. These include illnesses from toxic exposure at work, among many others. However, an employee would have to show that the exposure happened at work and not from any other location or activities.
The proof of causation requirement generally rules out illnesses common to the general public as “workplace illnesses.” This is because it can be difficult – or impossible – to tell whether the employee contracted the illness from the workplace or from everyday activities in public. Because you can contract COVID-19 from almost anyone, anywhere, this raised concerns about workers’ compensation eligibility for employees who put their health at risk to keep their jobs and for the good of the public and the economy.
The Governor’s Executive Order
On May 6, the Governor issued Executive Order N-62-20 regarding California workers and workers’ compensation coverage. The Order created a rebuttable presumption that COVID-19 and related illness was contracted from an employee’s workplace in certain situations. This would mean that the employee would not have to present initial evidence that they were exposed at work for a claim to move forward.
Several other states have passed similar rules increasing eligibility for workers’ compensation for COVID-19, though most states only protect “frontline” workers, such as emergency responders, law enforcement, and healthcare providers. Both Illinois and California have taken it a step further, however, and increased protections for all essential workers who cannot stay home.
The following requirements exist for workers’ compensation eligibility:
- The employee performed work at a location away from their home
- The work took place between March 19 and July 5, 2020
- Within 14 days of performing work, the employee tested positive for COVID-19 or was otherwise diagnosed by a licensed physician (a diagnosis must be confirmed by positive testing within 30 days)
If an employee meets all of the above criteria, the presumption exists that their diagnosis stemmed from their work, and the worker should qualify for benefits. However, this is a “rebuttable” presumption, which means an employer can present evidence within 30 days of the claim trying to show that the exposure was not work-related. This can be a difficult presumption to overcome, and many companies might not have the resources or will to fight every claim.
Workers’ Compensation Benefits for COVID-19
If you file a claim after being diagnosed with coronavirus, and your employer does not successfully challenge your claim, you can be eligible for different types of benefits. These can include coverage of the following costs and losses:
- Doctor’s visits
- Emergency room treatment
- Intensive care
- Disability benefits while you are out of work
In addition, if your close family recently passed away from COVID-19 after reporting to their workplace, you might be eligible for death benefits.
Anyone who believes their coronavirus diagnosis was connected to their work should speak with an experienced California workers’ compensation attorney as soon as possible. Even with the Executive Order, these claims will not be easy, and you want to fight for the benefits you deserve for putting your life on the line.