Employees who test positive for COVID-19 can now receive workers’ compensation benefits without having to prove the infection took place on the job. That burden is now shifted to the employer. The employee is required to have just worked at some point within the previous two weeks.
In announcing the order Wednesday, Gov. Newsom also shared that employers will have an opportunity to contest the assessments “but under strict criteria,” which means they have a 30-day window instead of the usual 90. That addition came in response to heavy opposition from a broad coalition of business groups that included the California Farm Bureau, Western Growers and the Western Agricultural Processors Association.
“People are very passionate in this space in terms of what they want to see,” Newsom said in his daily press briefing. “But this executive order will narrow the frame and at least provide some certainty of relief on this presumption.”
The Western Agricultural Processors Association said the policy, as it was first proposed, “could place a massive economic burden on California businesses even in cases where it had nothing to do with work.”
Western Growers called it "devastating to agriculture."
"The industry is already reeling from the widespread shelter-in-place orders, which has resulted in the virtual collapse of the foodservice sector and corollary challenges in the retail marketplace," writes Jeff Gullickson, WGA Vice President of Insurance Services, in a blog post.
The Farm Bureau said it would "discourage employers from re-opening, re-employing workers and getting the California economy moving again." Its policy advocate was also concerned the benefits would also cover housing expenses to quarantine the employee, paid for by the employer. While Newsom's order does not specify this, the state will be issuing more detailed guidance in the coming days.
The California Federation of Labor had originally pitched Newsom the policy proposal and the order is considered a big win for labor interests.
The order will expire in 60 days and covers cases going back to March 19, the day Newsom issued the stay-at-home order. The disability payments begin only after the employee uses all other state or federal sick leave benefits.
Some insurers have already dropped a requirement that essential workers must prove they contracted COVID-19 on the job.