Wed | Oct 21, 2020

California governor signs laws to protect workers from virus

Published:Thursday | September 17, 2020 | 5:06 PM
In this screenshot made during a video conference call, California Governor Gavin Newsom signs a bill into law that requires employers to notify workers if they have been potentially exposed to the coronavirus on Thursday, September 17, 2020, in Sacramento. (Adam Beam/Zoom via AP)

SACRAMENTO, California (AP) — California companies must warn their workers of any potential exposure to the coronavirus and must pay their employees workers compensation benefits if they get sick with the disease under two laws that Governor Gavin Newsom signed Thursday.

Newsom, a Democrat, signed the laws over the objections of business groups, who have said they are “unworkable.”

One of the laws makes people who have the coronavirus eligible for workers compensation benefits.

It takes effect immediately and applies to all workers in the state, but it treats first responders and health care workers differently than other employees.

Police officers, firefighters and health care workers — including janitors who are in contact with COVID-19 patients — are eligible if they get infected while on the job.

All other workers are eligible only if their workplaces experience an outbreak.

For companies with between five and 100 employees, the law defines an outbreak as four or more infected workers who work at the same location within a two-week period.

For companies with more than 100 employees, outbreaks are defined as at least 4% of workers working in the same location being infected during a two week period.

The rules for first responders and health care workers are permanent. The rules for everyone else expire on Jan. 1, 2023.

Workers don’t have to prove they were infected on the job to get benefits because the law assumes they got it while working. Instead, employers must prove that their workers did not get the virus while on the job to deny coverage.

In a letter to the state Legislature last month, business groups said they supported that for first responders and other groups at high risk of contracting the disease.

But they said it wasn’t fair to do that for other occupations with a lower risk of infection.

They called the law “unworkable for employers.”

Newsom signed the law during a Zoom call with supporters, including labour union leaders and members.

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