Ensuring workers' compensation

Gladys Chavez takes a taco order through a plastic barrier at Mijo’s Taqueria in Capitola on May 7, 2020. Taqueria employees are requiring customers to wear masks and wipe down the iPad after every credit card transaction. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By Barbara Feder Ostrov

WHAT THE BILLS WOULD DO 

Of four bills addressing workers’ compensation benefits for essential workers who contract COVID-19, one is going to the governor to decide. That bill, SB 1159, presumes that essential workers were infected on the job and qualify for workers’ compensation if they meet certain conditions, making it easier for them to obtain health care and financial benefits. Employers are allowed to contest the workers’ claims. The bill covers public safety and health care workers, and other workers during specified workplace outbreaks, infected with COVID-19 though 2022. 

WHO SUPPORTS IT? 

Labor unions have been the primary supporters of workers’ compensation protections, arguing that essential workers such as health care workers, first responders and public safety workers need special protection during the pandemic.

WHO’S OPPOSED?

Business and employer groups, municipalities, insurance companies, the California State Association of Counties and the California Coalition on Workers’ Compensation all opposed SB 1159, saying the costs would be too high and that it’s difficult to prove where an employee was infected.

WHY IT MATTERS 

Covid-19 has disproportionately harmed California’s essential workers, particularly low-income people and people of color.

GOVERNOR’S CALL

The governor signed the bill on Sept. 17. “Protecting workers is critical to slowing the spread of this virus,” Newsom said in a statement.