As many stay-at-home orders around the state have been extended with some easing of restrictions for certain types of employees and social activities, there have been some positive moves to protect frontline workers as they continue the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Assemblymembers Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove) and Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) recently amended Assembly Bill 664 to create a presumption for health workers and first responders such as police and firefighters. Should they become infected with COVID-19, it would be presumed that they contracted the virus while on the job, entitling them to full workers’ compensation benefits.
A second bill, Senate Bill 1159 by Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), would create a rebuttable presumption for a larger group of “critical” workers, though that group has yet to be clearly defined. The bill would still allow for employers to dispute that their employees contracted the coronavirus at work, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Meanwhile, the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) and the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) have continued to initiate emergency measures with the hope of keeping the system functional and moving cases forward.
The DWC and WCAB announced last week that starting today, May 4, they’re expanding their hearing schedule to include trials via the individually assigned judges’ conference lines that were put into effect after several issues arose with using CourtCall. The WCAB also issued an emergency en banc order suspending the 20-day requirement for filing documentary trial exhibits, coming on the heals of an en banc order issued April 23 allowing for limited filing of documents via email directly to the Appeals Board and DWC district offices.
As of April 16, California workers had filed 1,527 COVID-19-related claims, according to the Department of Industrial Relations. While the fate of these claims remains uncertain, the above-mentioned efforts offer signs of hope that our essential workers will be protected should they contract COVID-19 on the job. We certainly hope so.