State laws Workplace exposures

COVID-19 pandemic: Two new California laws aimed at helping workers ‘get the support they need’

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Photo: DustyPixel/iStockphoto

Sacramento, CA — California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Sept. 17 signed into law a pair of bills intended to expand worker protections related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

S.B. 1159, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), “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,” a Sept. 17 press release from Newsom’s office contends.

Under the new law, “injury” to an employee includes illness or death resulting from COVID-19, under specified circumstances, until Jan. 1, 2023. For first responders and health care workers, the law is permanent.

An employee will be required to exhaust all paid sick leave benefits and meet specific requirements before receiving temporary disability benefits. Police officers, firefighters and health care workers, among others, would have to exhaust paid sick leave benefits before receiving a leave of absence.

According to an Associated Press report published Sept. 17, business groups sent a letter to the state Legislature in August supporting the bill’s protections for first responders and other groups at high risk for infection. However, they claim the legislation isn’t fair for people whose jobs carry lower exposure risks, calling the law “unworkable for employers.”


Under A.B. 685, authored by state Assemblymember Eloise Gómez Reyes (D-San Bernardino), employers are required to report to employees any potential workplace exposures within one business day of being notified. The law also strengthens the enforcement authority of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, also known as Cal/OSHA, to close a workplace because of a COVID-19 hazard and reduce the time frame for coronavirus-related citations.

According to the AP report, the California Chamber of Commerce and other business groups argue that the bill is vague and will be difficult to comply with, resulting in “good employers” facing hefty fines.

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