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Sep 30, 2020

LEAD STORY

The coronavirus pandemic has now killed at least 1 million people worldwide based on figures maintained by Johns Hopkins University.  This comes just nine months after the first reported fatality in China last January.  The World Health Organization says the death toll could double if countries don’t uniformly work to suppress the virus’ spread.  Currently the United States leads the world in terms of both total number of dead and the total number of infected over the course of the pandemic.

 

BLACKBIRD

A new California Workers’ Compensation Institute report shows that COVID-19 accounts for 1-in-9 California workers’ compensation claims in 2020.  The CWCI report also shows that health care workers continue to account for the largest share of California COVID-19 claims, filing 38.1% of the claims reported for the first eight months of the year.  The remaining top five industries are safety/government workers (15.8%), retail trade (7.6%), manufacturing (7.6%), and transportation (5.0%).  

 

HERE COMES THE SUN

The Michigan House passed a package of bills last week to shield health providers and businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits filed by patients, employees, or customers.  The majority-led Republicans say this would give businesses more comfort to reopen and block frivolous complaints.  The measures would protect employers from liability if a worker is exposed to the coronavirus when the employer substantially complied with health rules.  The bills would add a new section to the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act and establishes immunity conditions for an employer whose employee is exposed to COVID-19.  Immunity wouldn’t apply if an employer willfully disregarded regulations.  The bills head to the GOP-led Senate for consideration.

 

EIGHT DAYS A WEEK

House Democrats in Congress unveiled a new scaled-down $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief proposal.  The bill updates the Paycheck Protection Program to help hard-hit businesses and non-profits with second loans and targeted assistance for the restaurant industry and independent live venue operators.  It also includes a second round of $1,200 payments per taxpayer and $500 per dependent, while extending weekly $600 federal unemployment payments through January.  It provides $436 billion for a year’s worth of help to state, local, territorial, and tribal governments to pay first responders and health workers.

 

COME TOGETHER

Keep in mind that House negotiations with the Trump Administration have stalled since the House passed its $3 trillion HEROES Act in May.  However, this bill contains a provision backed by the GOP to provide $25 billion to fend off thousands of layoffs at passenger airlines, as well as $3 billion for airlines contractors.  The proposal was meant to kickstart bipartisan talks, which resumed between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. 

 

This Question Again

EMPLOYEE OR INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR?

Last week the Labor Department released a proposed regulation that would provide a model for when businesses may legally classify workers as independent contractors rather than employees, who are covered by federal minimum wage and overtime laws.  The proposed rule adopts an “economic reality” test for determining which workers qualify as independent contractors.  Contractors must be in business for themselves rather than being economically dependent on the possible employer for work. 

 

HERE WE GO AGAIN

Under this test, the DOL would identify two core factors: 1) the nature and degree of the worker’s control over the work, and 2) the worker’s opportunity for profit or loss based on initiative or investment.  Three other factors may serve as additional guidance: the amount of skill required, the degree of permanence between the worker and the potential employer, and whether the work is part of an integrated unit of production.  The DOL is accepting comments during the 30-day comment period.  Remember, it would not overturn worker-friendly state independent contractor laws, like the one recently passed in California.

 

Making Our Way Around the Country

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION

The Illinois Supreme Court held that a claimant’s knee injury did arise out of his employment, reversing the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission’s decision as well as the judgements of the lower courts.  The claimant, a sous-chef, injured his knee from kneeling and standing in a food cooler looking for a tray of carrots.  In the previous decisions, the lower courts found that the claimant was not injured due to an employment-related risk because the task was a “neutral risk.”  However, the Supreme Court found that common bodily movements or routine “everyday activities,” like the act of kneeling and getting up to look for food, can be compensable if it was for the benefit of the employer, reasonable and foreseeable, and a risk incidental to the employment.  In light of this new decision, we’ll keep an eye out on how broadly this will be interpreted in future workers’ compensation cases.

 

NO MORE GAS?

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order that will phase out the sale of all gas-powered vehicles by 2035 in a bid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The order amounts to the most aggressive clean-car policy in the U.S.  Last year, zero-emission vehicles accounted for fewer than 8% of all new cars.  The Trump administration sought to revoke California’s authority to mandate zero-emission vehicles, and California led a multi-state coalition in filing a lawsuit challenging attempts to revoke portions of a 2013 waiver that allows the state to implement its Advanced Clear Car Standards.   

 

SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH

As California firefighters continue to fight at least 25 major blazes, we recognize Sir David Attenborough, the legendary wildlife filmmaker, broadcaster, and naturalist.  At 94 years old, he joined Instagram to spread awareness about climate change and what can be done to mitigate its consequences.  He also set a world record after gaining 1 million Instagram followers in less than five hours after creating his account.  Stay safe, stay well, and stay connected.

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