Is your employer liable if you contract COVID-19 at work? It’s an important question, and one many employees are asking as the United States eases and tightens its social distancing requirements, mask rules and business practices to deal with the pandemic. Millions of Americans are putting their lives on the line to go to work to provide essential and nonessential services.
So can you hold your employer accountable if you catch COVID-19 while you’re at work?
Here’s what you need to know.
Is Your Employer Liable if You Catch COVID-19 at Work?
Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 1159 into law on September 17, 2020, and it’s pretty significant. It says that if employees test positive for COVID-19 under specific circumstances, there’s a presumption that their exposure occurred in the workplace – and unless rebutted by the employer, the presumption creates a compensable injury for purposes of qualifying for workers’ compensation benefits.
Under this new section of the Labor Code, there’s a rebuttable presumption of workers’ compensation coverage when an employee test positive for COVD-19 within two weeks after showing up at work at the employer’s direction, provided that the positive test occurred during a period of an outbreak at the workplace. That means if your employer tells you to go to work, there’s an outbreak of COVID, and you test positive within 14 days of being exposed in the same workplace where there’s been an outbreak, it’s up to your employer to show that you didn’t contract the illness while you were on the job – you don’t have to prove that you caught it while you were at work in order to make a workers’ compensation claim.
The caveat to that is that you must exhaust all your supplemental COVID-19 sick leave pay before you can receive temporary disability benefits from the workers’ compensation carrier.
What is an “Outbreak” for Purposes of the Law?
An outbreak is when, within 14 days:
- The employer has up to 100 employees at a workplace and four employees test positive for COVID-19 (that’s 4 percent of the employees)
- The employer has more than 100 employees at a specific workplace and 4 percent of the employees test positive for COVID-19
- A specific place of employment is ordered to close due to COVID-19
What is a Specific Place of Employment?
Some large employers have significant locations – sometimes there are multiple buildings (or multiple floors in a single building), fields, processing floors, departments or outdoor spaces. Here’s an example: If four people who work at the reception desk and lobby area of a workplace, which is in a separate building from the CEO’s office and where the field workers perform their duties, these may be considered two separate workplaces. For purposes of the new law, specific places of employment are defined as “the building, store, facility or agricultural field where an employee performs work at the employer’s discretion.
Provided that employees don’t share some facilities – like a break room or common bathrooms – these may be considered separate workplaces. An employer may not necessarily be held liable in a situation like this.
What Do Employers Have to Do if an Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19?
Employers are required to report the following information to the workers’ claims administration, in writing, within three business days:
- The fact that an employee has tested positive, but the employer cannot reveal any personal identifiable information about the employee
- The date that the employee tested positive
- The specific address of the specific place of employment
- The highest number of employees who reported to work at that specific place of employment during the 45-day period preceding the last day the employee worked
Did You Contract COVID-19 in the Workplace?
If you contracted COVID-19 in your workplace and you’re unsure whether your employer is liable, or whether you can file a workers’ compensation claim, we may be able to help you. Call our office at 818-230-8380 or fill out the form below to schedule your free consultation with an experienced, knowledgeable employment attorney in Los Angeles or Glendale.