California Governor Gavin Newsom today signed two bills as part of his worker protection package, SB 1159 by Senator Jerry Hill and AB 685 by Assemblymember Eloise Gómez Reyes.
“Protecting workers is critical to slowing the spread of this virus,” said Newsom. “These two laws will help California workers stay safe at work and get the support they need if they are exposed to COVID-19.”
SB 1159 expands access to workers’ compensation and makes it easier for first responders, health care workers and people who test positive due to an outbreak at work to get the support they need, including necessary medical care and wage replacement benefits.
SB 1159 also expands access to workers’ compensation by creating a rebuttable presumption for front line workers — health care workers, firefighters and peace officers. Creating a presumption removes burdens of access to workers’ compensation for those workers who most likely got infected at work. Additionally, the bill establishes a rebuttable presumption when there is a workplace outbreak over a 14-day timeframe.
“I thank the governor, my colleagues in the legislature and the many stakeholders who worked with us on SB 1159 to improve the lives of the Californians who are working to keep our state, our economy and our communities operating. These workers help all of us meet the incredible challenges we face today,” said Hill. “For more than 100 years, California has stood for worker safety. In signing SB 1159, Governor Newsom underscores and reinforces that commitment by ensuring vulnerable workers are not left out in the cold.”
AB 685 ensures timely notification to employees and local and state public health officials of COVID-19 cases at workplaces. This notification will help workers take necessary precautions such as seeking testing, getting medical help or complying with quarantine directives.
“In the age of COVID-19 our essential workers risk their lives and the lives of their loved ones in our fields, hospitals, grocery stores, meatpacking plants, restaurant kitchens and countless other businesses in our state,” said Reyes. “COVID-19 infections and deaths disproportionately affect the Latino, Black and Asian Pacific Islander communities — that make up the majority of our state’s low-wage workers. By notifying the public and workers of potential exposures as required under AB 685 we allow workers to take appropriate steps to protect themselves and their loved ones while also bolstering the response of public health officials.”
Under AB 685, employers must report an outbreak to local public health officials. Employers must also report known cases to employees who may have been exposed to COVID-19 within one business day. This bill strengthens Cal/OSHA’s enforcement authority by providing clear authority to close a worksite due to a COVID-19 hazard and reducing the timeframe for COVID-19 citations.
Newsom has enacted other components of his worker protection package in recent weeks. Last week, he signed AB 1867, legislation that immediately ensured access to paid sick leave for every California employee, closing gaps in federal and state law. He also advanced significant funding for worker and employer outreach, education and enforcement activities related to COVID-19.
This worker protection package builds on the Newsom administration’s ongoing efforts to protect workers, among them expanded child care, access to testing and building a pipeline of personal protective equipment to help workers stay safe on the job. The administration has also released robust workplace safety and health guidance that emphasizes masks, distancing, cleaning, hand washing, screenings and staying home if feeling sick.