Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed S.B. 1159, which takes effective immediately. This law creates a presumption that certain covered workers' illnesses or deaths from COVID-19 are work-related, and entitles them to workers' compensation, putting the onus on their employers to rebut the presumption. Employers may seek to rebut the presumption by demonstrating measures it had taken to reduce the potential transmission, or showing a worker's non-occupational risks of infection. However, there is no assurance that these showings would necessarily rebut the presumption, which may lead to additional litigation.
Previously, Gov. Newsom had established a rebuttable presumption in an executive order that expired in July. This new law is retroactive to July, and unless extended, will be in effect until January 2023. Covered workers include workers who test positive during a workplace outbreak over a 14-day timeframe, along with first responders and health care workers who are covered even without a 14-day timeframe. Workers not covered by this new law may still file COVID-19 related workers' compensation claims. However, they are not entitled to the presumptions under the new law.