California Update: New COVID-19 Laws

By Lindsay Hesketh and Jonathon Watson

In addition to recent revisions to its legal tests for characterizing workers as employees or as independent contractors (blog post available here), California has passed numerous other laws to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The new laws include:

  • Notifying Employees of COVID-19 Exposure (AB 685): Effective January 1, 2021 through January 1, 2023, employers who receive notice of potential exposure to COVID 19 in the workplace must provide written notice to all employees who were at the same worksite that they might have been exposed to COVID-19.  The notice to employees, and any bargaining representative, must take place within one business day, and must include notice of available COVID-19-related benefits and the employer’s plans for disinfection and safety.  The new laws also permit Cal/OSHA to enforce safety violations through site shutdowns and exempt Cal/OSHA citations alleging a serious violation relating to SARS-CoV-2 from the 15-day pre-citation standardized form and rebuttal at hearing provisions.
  • Expanding Workers’ Compensation Laws to Include Illness or Death Resulting from COVID-19 (SB 1159): Effective now until January 1, 2023, the definition of “injury” under workers’ compensation laws includes illness or death resulting from COVID-19 under certain circumstances.  The new law also creates additional worker-friendly presumptions related to COVID-19 and an employee’s eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits.
  • Making Family and Medical Leave and Parental Bonding Applicable to Small Employers (SB 1383): Effective January 1, 2021, employers with at least five employees must provide job-protected leave to eligible employees under the California Family Rights Act (similar to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act) and New Parent Leave Act.  Previously, the CFRA applied to employers with at least 50 employees and the NPLA applied to employers with at least 20 employees, if requesting employees met certain other eligibility requirements.

While these summaries hit some of the high points of the new laws, each bill contains more detailed changes and requirements employers must follow.  Employers should review the new laws carefully and update their policies accordingly.