Last week Governor Newsom signed three important bills into law:

  1. SB 1159: Expands Presumption of Workers’ Compensation Liability for COVID-19 Illness Claims

SB 1159 expands access to workers’ compensation by creating a rebuttable presumption of compensable injury for front line workers — health care workers, firefighters and peace officers. The presumption, while rebuttable, makes it easier for certain essential employees to receive workers’ compensation benefits if they contract COVID-19.   The law puts the onus on employers to rebut the presumption.

In addition to first responders and those in the health care field, the law also establishes a rebuttable presumption of workers’ compensation coverage when there is a workplace “outbreak” at the employee’s particular work location. (This presumption applies to employers with five or more employees.) An “outbreak” exists if within 14 calendar days one of the following occurs:

  • If the employer has 100 employees or fewer at a specific place of employment, at least four employees test positive for COVID-19.
  • If the employer has more than 100 employees at a specific place of employment, four percent of the number of employees who report to the place of employment test positive for COVID-19.
  • A specific place of employment is ordered to close by a local public health department, the State Department of Public Health, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or a school superintendent due to a risk of infection with COVID-19.

The law goes into effect immediately. SB 1159 is retroactive to July 6 and expires in 2023.

From the Los Angeles Times: There have been more than 40,436 claims filed so far this year by workers who said they contracted COVID-19 on the job, according to statistics from the Department of Industrial Relations, which oversees the workers’ compensation system. The workers’ comp rating bureau estimated that COVID-19 claims will cost employers and insurers around $2 billion.

  1. AB 685: New Notice and Reporting Requirements re COVID-19 Exposure

AB 685 will soon require employers to provide written notice to workers who may have been exposed to the virus and to inform local public health officials about positive cases.

As of January 1, 2021, the law will impose exhaustive notice requirements in the event of COVID-19 exposure in the workplace. This includes providing written notice, within one business day, to all employees and employers of subcontracted employees, who were at the worksite within the infectious period and who may have been exposed to the virus. AB 685 also enhances reporting requirements to local health authorities in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak in the worksite. Employers must notify local public health officials within 48 hours if the number of cases they have meets the state’s definition of an outbreak.

In addition, AB 685 grants the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health authority to shut down businesses it believes are exposing their workers to risk of infection to the point that they’re an imminent hazard to employees.

The law takes effect on January 1, 2021.

  1. SB 1383: Expands Unpaid Family Leave Requirements to Small Businesses

SB 1383 expands CFRA to require businesses with as few as five employees to provide 12 weeks of mandatory family leave per year. CFRA previously applied to employers with 50 or more employees, except for baby-bonding leave which applied to employers with 20 or more employees.)

SB 1383 also expands family care and medical leave to include leave: (1) to care for grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, domestic partners with a serious health condition (in addition to existing leave to care for a parent or spouse), and (2) when needed because of a qualifying exigency related to covered active duty or call to covered active duty of an employee’s spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent in the US Armed forces. SB 1383 also expands the definition of child to include the child of a domestic partner.

To be eligible for family leave, an employee must have at least 12 months of service with the employer and at least 1,250 hours of service with the employer during the previous 12-month period.


For assistance understanding your compliance obligations with respect to any of these new laws, please contact your Baker McKenzie employment attorney.