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  • Writer's pictureDavis Yu

California Expands Protections for its Workforce Affected by COVID-19

September 22, 2020



Amid the coronavirus pandemic, essential workers across a variety of industries have demanded safer working conditions, personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks and sanitizer, in addition to hazard pay and benefits. Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law two new bills, SB 1159 and AB 685 that became part of his worker protection package. Prior to these new protections, he signed AB 1867 that required private employers with 500 or more employees to provide their employees with supplemental paid sick leave. This requirement also extends to employers in other industries including healthcare, public safety, and food service. Through these regulations, Governor Newsom seeks to prioritize safety in the workplace and ultimately slow the spread of the virus.

Introduced by Senator Jerry Hill, SB 1159 seeks to expand access to workers’ compensation. For frontline workers including healthcare workers, firefighters and peace officers, the new legislation creates a rebuttable presumption that the workers likely got infected at work. A rebuttable presumption is also established when there is an outbreak in the workplace over a 14-day timeframe. Thus, the presumption will allow for less burdensome access to workers’ compensation.

Overall, this legislation will make it easier for first responders, healthcare workers, and other employees who test positive for coronavirus as a result of an outbreak at work to gain access to necessary medical care and wage replacement benefits.

AB 685 by Assemblymember Eloise Gómez Reyes requires both public and private California employers to provide timely written notice of known COVID-19 cases in the workplace to employees who may have been exposed within one business day with a couple of exceptions. These exceptions generally include health facilities, as defined in Section 1250 of the Health and Safety Code, in addition to employees who conduct COVID-19 testing or screening or provide direct patient care or treatment for individuals who are known to have tested positive or may potentially be infected with COVID-19. Employers must also report an outbreak to local public officials within 48 hours. These measures will allow for workers to take necessary precautions including getting tested and complying with quarantine directives should an outbreak occur.


New laws are continuing to be implemented in the face of the pandemic to further protect employees in the workplace. With the unpredictable nature of the virus, it is important for employers to establish timely and effective safety protocols and policies to limit exposure as well as ensure compliance with state and federal regulations. Contact us today to learn about new requirements in the workplace and get your questions answered.




This article is specific to the laws of the State of California and is intended for informational purposes only. The article should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion based on any specific facts or circumstances. For specific questions related to this article, please contact an attorney.

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