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New COVID-Related Protections for California Employees


On Sept. 17, 2020, California Governor Newson signed into law three bills introducing changes to COVID-related obligations of employers. The impacts of each piece of legislation are summarized below.

  1. Expansion of Unpaid Family Leave Requirements to Small Businesses

SB 1383 modifies the California Family Rights Act by requiring businesses with five or more employees to provide employees with 12 weeks of mandatory family leave per year, when requested. This requirement originally applied only to employers with 50 or more employees under the CFRA. The provisions of SB 1383 will remain in force until Jan. 1, 2021.

The law also expands the definition of family care and medical leave. This now includes:

a. Care of grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, or domestic partners (in addition to existing leave to care for a parent or spouse);

b. Leave taken as needed due to active duty or call to active duty of the employee’s spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent in the U.S. Armed forces.

To be eligible for this family leave, the employee must have worked with the employer for at least 12 months and a minimum of 1,250 hours during the previous 12-month period.

  1. Presumption of Liability for Workers’ Compensation claims related to COVID-19.

SB 1159 introduces a rebuttable presumption of injury for frontline workers. The law defines “injury” as illness or death resulting from COVID-19. The introduction of the rebuttable presumption makes it easier for essential workers to access compensation benefits if they are diagnosed with COVID-19. The employer has the burden of proof to rebut the presumption.

Under this law, first responders have a rebuttable presumption in their favor related to any outbreak of the virus in their workplace. This applies to any employer with at least five employees. An “outbreak” is defined as the occurrence of any of the following events within a period of 14 calendar days:

  • For employers with up to 100 employees, four employees test positive,
  • For employers with more than 100 employees, four percent of the employees test positive, or
  • The business is closed by an order of a local health department, the State Department of Public Health, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or a school superintendent due to a risk of infection

SB 1159 went into effect immediately, applies retroactively to July 6, and expires in 2023.

  1. COVID-19 exposure reporting

AB 685 requires employers to provide written notice, within one business day, to all employees upon finding that there has been exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. Local health authorities must be notified within 48 hours once the number of cases reaches the level of “outbreak” as defined by the state.

Under this law, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health has the authority to close businesses believed to be exposing their workers to risk of infection, or limit or restrict access to the work area causing the exposure.

AB 685 will become effective on Jan. 1, 2021.

If you believe your employer may have violated your rights, we can help. Contact our Los Angeles employment lawyer at Litigation, P.C., today for a consultation.

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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