California SB 1159
Sep 22, 2020

In the Sept. 9, 2020 edition of The Way, we reported that SB1159 had passed the CA legislature and was in the hands of the governor for review.

On Sept. 17, 2020,  Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) signed SB 1159, a bill that sets the ground rules for workers’ compensation presumptions concerning employees who contract COVID-19 in the workplace.  The legislation takes effect immediately and remains in effect through Dec. 31, 2022.  

The bill establishes two timeframes for claims involving employees with COVID-19.  The first period falls within the state’s original Executive Order of March 19th through July 5th.  Most of the elements contained in Governor Newsom’s original order still apply. The second period applies to employees who test positive with COVID-19 from July 6, 2020 2020 through Dec. 31, 2022.  In those cases, the bill states that, if an employer can establish that health workers, peace officers, firefighter, and other frontline workers did not have contact with a patient who tested positive for COVID-19 within 14 days of the diagnosis, then the workers’ compensation presumption no longer applies. Employers have 30 days from Sept. 17 to report all non-work related COVID-19 claims back from the July 6 dates of test.



When it comes to determining compensability for work-related COVID-19 claims by all classes of employees, the second half of the bill sets out a playbook for employers.  In cases that involve health workers, peace officers, firefighters, and other frontline workers, the presumption applies in most cases with just a positive COVID-19 test.

In all other cases, for all employers with five or more employees, the presumption applies only when the employee tests COVID-19 positive during an outbreak.  To allow for a proper compensability determination, the bill authorizes a 45-day investigative period.  The statute diagrams a specific claim handling schema and calls for an information hand-off between the employer and the claims administrator.


Reporting Requirements

Specifically under SB 1159, once an employer knows (or reasonably should have known) that an employee tested positive for COVID-19, the employer must alert the claims administrator within three business days.  This includes both work-related and non-work related COVID-19 diagnoses.  The employer may not provide identifying information about the employee unless that employee asserts the infection is work-related. The employer must then give the claims administrator the date of the test, each location the employee worked for the last 14 days, the highest number of employees who reported to work during the 45 days before the last day the infected employee worked for each location.  This is considered “outbreak” information under the statute.

The outbreak information puts the statute in motion.  The presumption only applies if the positive test occurred during an outbreak at the specific place of employment.  The “rebuttable presumption” applies only after an identified outbreak. In such circumstances, the employer may produce its evidence of preventative measures taken to reduce transmission in order to dispute the presumption.


Penalty Potential

The bill lays out penalties for employers (or anyone acting on their behalf) who fail to comply with the information exchanges.  Employers who intentionally report false or misleading claims data or fails to submit information when reporting will be subject to a civil penalty of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000) to be assessed by the Labor Commissioner.


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