As California moves to reopen many parts of the economy, with some counties moving faster than others, more protections are needed for workers as they face new spikes in reported cases of COVID-19.
As of June 11, California had over 139,000 confirmed cases resulting in 4,881 deaths, with each daily tally outpacing the previous day’s reports, suggesting the pandemic is far from over.
With Governor Newsom’s rebuttable presumption for essential employees set to expire on July 5, it’s imperative for state lawmakers to put in place new protections for workers who contract the coronavirus as a result of their working conditions.
The first bill, and the most comprehensive, would create a conclusive presumption for all essential workers as defined by Governor Newsom’s March 19 Executive Order and would be applied retroactively to March 1, 2020. Assembly Bill 196, authored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), is currently awaiting its first hearing in the Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee.
Assemblymembers Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove) and Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) continue to push a separate bill, Assembly Bill 664, which would create a conclusive presumption for health care workers and first responders such as police and firefighters, and would be applied retroactively to January 1, 2020.
That bill has been referred to the Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee but has yet to have its first hearing.
Lastly, Senate Bill 1159 by Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), would establish a rebuttable presumption for “critical” workers for a set period of time, though that group has yet to be clearly defined nor has the timeframe been set. While the bill would still allow for employers to dispute that their employees contracted the coronavirus at work, it’s a step in the right direction and puts the burden of proof on the employer.
The bill passed out of the Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee on May 14 and moved to the Senate Appropriations Committee where it was placed on suspense file on June 9.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise, first responders and essential workers are at more risk than ever. We hope the legislature acts on these bills quickly to extend and expand upon the protections afforded by Governor Newsom’s rebuttable presumption.