Governor Newsom’s executive order
On May 6, Governor Newsom announced that he had signed an executive order to allow workers who are diagnosed with coronavirus disease to recover workers’ compensation benefits. The order makes a rebuttable presumption that people who work outside of their homes and contract COVID-19 were exposed to the virus at work. Before the order, workers had the burden of proving that they contracted their illnesses while they were working on the job. This order instead places the burden on the employers to prove that their employees contracted the disease while they were not working.
The order will provide workers who have worked since March 19 with the rebuttable presumption that they contracted COVID-19 while they were working. March 19 was when the state issued its stay at home order. Many workers in essential industries have continued to work to provide critical services and care to others. This order will make it easier for them to seek and obtain workers’ compensation benefits if they have contracted or do contract the coronavirus disease.
The rebuttable presumption will be available to any worker who contracts COVID-19 within 14 days of performing work for their employers between March 19 and 60 days after the executive order was signed. The order is scheduled to remain effective until July 5, which is 60 days after the governor issued the order.
Why the order is important
Many workers have remained on the job during the COVID-19 pandemic and should be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if they contract the disease because of being exposed while they are working. The order comes as the state has moved into the second phase of reopening. Governor Newsom announced a four-phase plan to reopen the state. The second phase began on May 8 when retailers were allowed to reopen for curbside pickup.
According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, the California Federation of Labor previously requested the workers’ compensation change on March 27 in a letter that was sent to legislative leaders and the governor. Without the changes, it could be hard for workers to prove that they contracted their illnesses at work since the novel coronavirus spreads so easily.
The rule change will make it much easier for retail workers from chain stores such as Target, Rite-Aid, CVS, and Wal-Mart to recover workers’ compensation benefits. It will also help airline attendants from many different airlines that operate in California. Delivery drivers for companies like Amazon, UPS, and FedEx will also benefit since many of them have continued working to deliver goods to people who are staying at home during the pandemic. Medical workers, including doctors, nurses, and hospital staff, will also be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if they contract the disease within 14 days of working.
Opposition to the rule change
The California Chamber of Commerce led numerous business groups in opposing the change to the process for workers to recover workers’ compensation benefits. They sent a letter to the governor and leaders in the legislature on April 7, arguing that the change would force businesses to operate as a safety net against the spread of the disease. They also argued that people who are unable to work because of contracting COVID-19 are already eligible for relief through the federal pandemic relief fund.
After the governor announced the executive order, the California Chamber of Commerce issued a statement. It argued that the costs for businesses in the state will be driven up as more people qualify for workers’ compensation benefits because their workers’ compensation insurance premiums will be increased. Some of the biggest workers’ compensation insurance providers in the state have already removed the requirement that essential workers prove that they contracted the disease while they were working on the job.
What benefits are available to workers who contract COVID-19?
Workers’ compensation benefits are available to workers who are injured or become ill while they are working at their jobs. Because of the availability of workers’ compensation, workers must file workers’ compensation claims with their employers’ insurance providers to recover benefits instead of filing lawsuits against their employers. Because they are prevented from filing lawsuits, workers do not have to prove that their employers were negligent in causing their injuries or illnesses. However, before the rule change, they were required to prove that they became ill or were injured at their workplaces instead of somewhere else. The executive order now places the burden on the employers to prove that the workers were exposed to the novel coronavirus outside of work. They will have 30 days to rebut the presumption after an ill worker files a claim for workers’ compensation benefits.
Employers in California are required to provide workers’ compensation benefits either by having insurance policies or by self-insuring their workers. When workers contract COVID-19 within 14 days of working, they will be entitled to recover benefits. The workers’ compensation program provides benefits to cover all of the medical costs of treating COVID-19, including doctors’ visits, hospital stays, medication, rehabilitation, and other medical expenses. Securing workers’ compensation benefits means that workers will not have to pay any copays or use their health insurance coverage to pay for their treatment.
Workers’ compensation also provides more benefits beyond paying for a worker’s medical expenses. If a worker contracts COVID-19 and is temporarily unable to return to his or her job, he or she may also recover temporary total disability payments from workers’ compensation. If a worker is left with permanently disabling injuries that prevent him or her from returning to work, he or she might recover permanent disability benefits from workers’ compensation. For example, some people have had to undergo amputations because of clotting problems caused by COVID-19. If these injuries prevent them from returning to their jobs, they may be eligible to receive permanent workers’ compensation disability benefits to replace a percentage of their income on an ongoing basis.
Finally, the families of workers who contract COVID-19 and subsequently die from the disease will also be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Family members can recover death benefits to pay for their loved ones’ funeral and burial expenses. They can also receive ongoing death benefits to replace a portion of their loved ones’ former incomes.
Get help from a California workers’ compensation lawyer
If you have contracted COVID-19 while working, getting help from an experienced workers’ compensation attorney at the Steven M. Sweat Personal Injury Lawyers might help you to make sure that you recover all of the benefits to which you should be entitled. Contact us today to learn about your rights by calling us at 866.966.5240.