New California Employment Laws Related to COVID-19

California recently passed two new laws related to COVID19 that every employer needs to know.

Employee Notification

Assembly Bill 685, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2021, requires California employers that receive notice of potential exposure to COVID-19 to “provide specified notifications to its employees within one business day of the notice of potential exposure.”

An exposed individual is one who either (1) received a laboratory-confirmed positive test for COVID-19, (2) received a diagnosis of COVID-19 from a licensed health care provider or (3) received an official order to self-isolate with potential COVID-19 symptoms. Employers must provide the notification in writing. The writing can be through email or text message, to all employees who were at the same worksite as the exposed individual during the COVID-19 infectious period.

The “infectious period,” begins 48 hours before the positive COVID-19 test was administered and ends when the COVID-19-positive individual is released from quarantine or within 10 days.

Mandatory Reporting of Outbreaks

In addition, under Assembly Bill 685, if an employer is aware of a COVID-19 outbreak ― defined as three confirmed cases within 14 days ― occurring at the worksite, the employer is required to report within 48 hours the confirmed cases to their local public health agency. The employer must continue to provide notice of subsequent cases to the agency.

The California Department of Public Health and Cal/OSHA are developing regulations that would require employers to report positive cases of COVID-19 when they reach the outbreak threshold. Those regulations are expected to be in place before AB 685’s January implementation date.

Workers’ Compensation and COVID-19 Presumption

Taking effect immediately as an urgency bill, Senate Bill 1159 creates a COVID-19 presumption for the purpose of access to workers’ compensation, meaning that an employee’s “injury” that includes illness or death resulting from COVID-19 is presumed to have occurred  in the course of employment and is compensable for the dates of injury.

Employees of California businesses that have at least five employees and are experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19 are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits under this new legislation.

The presumption of injury applies to all employees at a workplace where a specified number of employees test positive for COVID-19 within a specified time frame.The presumption applies if the workplace is experiencing an outbreak, which occurs when one of the following thresholds is met within 14 calendar days:

Employers with five to 100 employees: Four or more employees test positive for COVID-19

More than 100 employees: 4% of the employer’s workforce tests positive for COVID-19

Employees must first exhaust their paid sick leave benefits specifically available in response to COVID-19 and meet specified certification requirements before receiving any temporary disability benefits.

Employers who learn that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19 must report specific information in writing to their claims administrator within three days.

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