On September 17, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 1159 (SB-1159), which eases workers’ compensation requirements for employees who contract COVID-19 on the job.   SB 1159 extends protections similar to Governor Newsom’s Executive Order N-62-20, which expired on July 5, 2020.  SB-1159 takes effect immediately through January 1, 2023.

Under SB-1159, for purposes of workers’ compensation, a compensable workplace “injury” now includes illness or death from COVID-19 under specified circumstances. In contrast to existing law, which requires most employees to prove they suffered an injury or illness in the course of employment, an employee is presumed to have contracted COVID-19 on the job if there was an outbreak where they work.  It is thus up to the employer to rebut the “disputable presumption,” and the bill specified ways to do so.

Some key points to the bill include:

  • An “outbreak” is defined depending on the number of employees at a worksite and the specified level of positive testing within a 14-day period.
  • If a claim is not rejected within 30 or 45 days (depending on whether the injury occurred prior to or after July 6, 2020) by the claim administrator, the illness is presumed compensable.  However, the 30-day denial period applies regardless of the date of injury to certain frontline workers, specified in Labor Code Section 3212.87.
  • Benefits include “full hospital, surgical, medical treatment, disability indemnity, and death benefits.”
  • An employee is entitled to temporary disability benefits if the employee has exhausted the existing paid sick leave benefits specifically available in response to COVID-19 (including FFCRA or any state-provided benefits).