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California Employees Who Test Positive for COVID-19 Now Eligible for Workers’ Compensation Benefits


On Sept. 17, 2020, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 1159, defining an employee’s COVID-19 illness as an occupational injury and allowing employees who test positive for the virus to seek workers’ compensation benefits.

However, specific criteria must be met in order to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits as a nonessential employee who contracted COVID-19 at work.

SB 1159 in a Nutshell

Here are the key components of SB 1159:

  • Applies to all employers with five or more employees
  • Employees who test positive during an outbreak (see the definition of an outbreak below) at their “specific place of employment” are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits
  • An employee who contracts coronavirus at work may be reimbursed for hospital bills, medical expenses and disability indemnity benefits (disability indemnity benefits are available after exhausting COVID-specific paid sick leave). Death benefits may be available to family members of the deceased worker, as well.
  • Applies to all dates of COVID-19 illness on or after July 6, 2020
  • Effective immediately and remains in effect until Jan. 1, 2023

Are You Eligible for Workers’ Compensation Benefits if You Contracted COVID-19 as a Remote Worker?

Though many employees switched to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, SB 1159 explicitly states that an employee’s home or residence is not considered a “specific place of employment” (SPE).

Places that do qualify as an SPE include an office, store, facility, agricultural field or any building where an employee performs work at their employer’s direction.

When Can You Seek Workers’ Compensation Benefits if You Test Positive for COVID-19?

In order to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits as an employee who contracted coronavirus at work in California, your SPE must meet the “outbreak” requirement. Under SB 1159, an outbreak is declared when, over a 14-day period, one of the following occur:

  • Four or more employees test positive for COVID-19 in workplaces with 100 or fewer employees
  • Four percent of employees contract coronavirus in workplaces with more than 100 workers, or
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration or health authorities order the SPE to be closed because of a high risk of COVID-19 infection

How to Prove That Your COVID-19 Illness is Work-Related

Your COVID-19 illness is presumed to arise out of and in the course of employment if you test positive for coronavirus within 14 days or working at the SPE. However, you must prove that your COVID-19 illness occurred during an outbreak at work.

In some cases, workers may be required to gather evidence of safety measures aimed at reducing the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace and proof of an employee’s nonoccupational risks of coronavirus infection.

Also, in order to qualify for workers’ compensation under SB 1159, the test that confirmed your COVID-19 illness must be approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration. Eligible tests include a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test and any other viral culture test approved by the FDA.

Note: The law explicitly states that serologic testing (antibody testing) is excluded.

If you want to prove that you qualify for workers’ comp under SB 1159 and to potentially obtain benefits on your behalf, contact our lawyer at Litigation, P.C., and we will put you in touch with the best workers’ compensation attorney.  Speak with our Los Angeles employment lawyer by calling 424-284-2401, and sign up for our newsletter to learn more about your legal rights at work.

This post is informational only and should not be understood as legal advice. This post does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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