As California moves to reopen many parts of the economy — with some counties moving faster than others — more protections are needed for workers as they face new spikes in reported cases of COVID-19.
As of Friday, California had more than 161,000 confirmed cases resulting in nearly 5,300 deaths, with each daily tally outpacing the previous day’s reports, suggesting the pandemic is far from over.
With Gov. Gavin Newsom’s rebuttable presumption for essential employees set to expire on July 5, it’s imperative for state lawmakers to put in place new protections for workers who contract the coronavirus as a result of their working conditions.
The first bill, and the most comprehensive, would create a conclusive presumption for all essential workers as defined by Newsom’s March 19 executive order and would be applied retroactively to March 1, 2020. Assembly Bill 196, authored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, is currently in the Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee.
Assemblymembers Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, and Gonzalez continue to push a separate bill, Assembly Bill 664, which would create a conclusive presumption for health care workers and first responders such as police and firefighters, and would be applied retroactively to Jan. 1, 2020.
That bill has been referred to the Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee but has yet to have its first hearing.
Lastly, Senate Bill 1159, by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, would establish a rebuttable presumption for any employee who contracts the disease within 14 days of conducting job duties under on-site supervision. While the bill would still allow for employers to dispute that their employees contracted the coronavirus at work, it’s a step in the right direction and puts the burden of proof on the employer.
The bill passed out of the Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee on May 14 and moved to the Senate Appropriations Committee, where it was placed on suspense file on June 9.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise, first responders and essential workers are at more risk than ever. We hope the Legislature acts on these bills quickly to extend and expand upon the protections afforded by Gov. Newsom’s rebuttable presumption.
Michael Castillo is communications director for the California Applicants' Attorneys Association. This opinion is republished, with permission, from the CAAA website.
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