The California Legislature is working on a number of new measures to protect workers in the state during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The measures take aim at “holes” in the system that may leave employees who contract the coronavirus on the job without workers’ compensation benefits, footing higher utility bills because of working at home and needing sick leave time available to them should they contract the disease.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would work closely with legislators to help the measures become law.
Below we look at the legislative moves that have gained the most traction and are supported by the governor.
There are two bills (one in the Assembly and the other in the State Senate) that would make it easier for employees to be paid workers’ compensation if they contract COVID-19 (presumably on the job).
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) has introduced AB 196, which would create a presumption that essential workers who contract COVID-19 were infected while on the job and that the employer would not be able to contest the claim.
Meanwhile, Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) has introduced SB 1159, which would require workers’ compensation coverage for COVID-19-related illness or death for employees who contract the virus. The infected employee would not have to prove they had contracted the coronavirus on the job, and would require the employer, if contesting the claim, to prove that it hadn’t been.
The law essentially codifies an executive order made by Newsom in May, but it does not cover new worker claims made on or after July 5.
Both bills are a work in progress and may eventually be merged into one. Hill is talking to labor and business groups about his measure, and which industries would be covered and whether the provisions would be retroactive.
Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) has introduced AB 3216, which would prohibit employers from refusing a request for up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave so that a worker can care for a child whose school has been forced to close due to a health emergency declared by a local, state or federal authority.
Easing meal and rest break rules
AB 1492 would allow employees more flexibility in when they can take meal and rest breaks when working from home. The measure by Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas) would also require employers to pay staff who skip those breaks for an extra hour of work.
Employers would also be required to pay for additional equipment and a portion of the workers’ internet and utility bills when working from home. This is because it has been reported that many people who have been forced to work from home are seeing higher usage bills.
Reporting workplace outbreaks
AB 685, authored by Eloise Reyes (D-Colton), would require employers to notify their employees, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, and the State Department of Public Health of any employee exposure to COVID-19. The notification must be made within 24 hours of when “the employer knew of or should have reasonably have known of the workplace outbreak.”
If the employer fails to notify or notify within 24 hours, they can be subjected to a misdemeanor infraction carrying a $10,000 fine.