With many of California’s workplaces facing significant changes fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, state lawmakers are considering whether labor laws need to evolve too.
Legislators have proposed expanding workers’ compensation eligibility so that more employees will be covered if they are diagnosed with COVID-19, increasing the number of sick days for food service workers and requiring employers to pay a portion of utility and internet bills for teleworkers.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday that he plans to work “hand in glove” with the Legislature to expand workplace protections, including guaranteeing COVID-19-related sick leave, easing workers’ compensation claim requirements, enforcing labor laws and ensuring employers are reporting outbreaks.
“The reality is that we will come back to a different society, a different economy and a different definition of workplaces when this is over,” said Victor Narro, project director and professor of labor studies at the UCLA Labor Center.
Determining whether fixes will be needed temporarily or long-term will be a key question for the Legislature when it reconvenes on Monday, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) said.
Gonzalez and state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) both have bills to ease restrictions on workers’ compensation so more employees have access to the benefit. Talks are underway to combine Gonzalez’s bill with Hill’s legislation, Senate Bill 1159, the lawmakers said.
SB 1159 would add coronavirus-related illness or death to the list of on-the-job injuries covered under the state’s workers’ compensation program while removing a requirement that workers prove they contracted the virus on the job. Instead, employers would have to prove that COVID-19 wasn’t contracted in the workplace.
Newsom included a similar measure for essential workers in a May 6 executive order – a big win for labor unions. However, that executive order only eased the burden of proof for workers with COVID-19 before July 5.