Update on three new COVID-related laws covering NUHW members

NewsSeptember 23, 2020

Dear NUHW Member:
In recent days, Governor Newsom signed three new COVID-related laws that temporarily expand the rights and protections of healthcare workers in California.
In the short-term, SB 1159 will make it easier for many healthcare workers who contract COVID-19 to qualify for workers compensation and SB 1867 will require large employers to provide workers with supplemental sick time for COVID-19-related absences.
A third law (SB 685) will require employers to notify many employees of a potential COVID-19 exposure within one business day. However, this law targeted meatpacking plants; and limits protections for workers who do COVID-19 screenings or provide direct care for COVID patients.
NUHW is continuing to push the governor to protect all workers during the pandemic and to sign other critically important pending bills, including SB 855, which would increase access to mental health and substance use treatment.
A summary of the three bills signed into law is below. Please contact us with any COVID-19 questions or concerns at COVID19@nuhw.org.
In Unity,

Sal Rosselli, President
Sophia Mendoza, Secretary-Treasurer
National Union of Healthcare Workers

SB 1159
(presumptive eligibility for workers’ comp for workers in high-risk settings who contract COVID-19)
  • Requires that employees in high-risk settings who test positive for COVID-19 — including police officers, firefighters, home care workers, and health care facility employees who provide direct patient care or who are custodial employees in contact with COVID-19 patients — are presumed to have contracted COVID-19 on the job and are therefore entitled to workers’ compensation covering lost wages and medical costs.
  • For other healthcare facility employees, this presumption does not apply if the employer can show that the employee did not have contact with a COVID-19-positive patient at the facility within the 14-days prior to making a workers’ compensation claim.
  • Employers will have 30 days after a claim is filed to deny it.
  • Employees must exhaust any paid sick leave benefits that have been made available to them specifically for COVID-19 before they can access any benefits under SB 1159.
  • Earlier this year, Governor Newsom issued an Executive Order to this effect but that order expired on July 5, 2020. This new law effectively extends the terms of that executive order from July 6, 2020 until January 1, 2023.
  • This law takes effect immediately and covers cases retroactive to July 6, 2020.

AB 1867
(requires large employers to provide supplemental paid sick time for COVID-19-related absences through the end of the year)
  • Requires large private-sector employers with 500 or more employees to provide employees with supplemental paid sick time for COVID-19-related absences. An existing federal law, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, already requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to do so.
  • Applies to public employers (such as healthcare districts) that employ health care workers or emergency responders.
  • Does not cover employees who work from home.
  • Entitles full-time employees to 80 hours of supplemental paid sick leave (part-time employees get less, on a pro-rata formula basis) for any of the following reasons:
    • The employee is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
    • The employee is advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine or self-isolate due to concerns related to COVID-19; or
    • The employee is prohibited from working by the employer due to health concerns related to the potential transmission of COVID-19.
  • An employer may not require an employee to first use any other employer-paid leave. However, if an employer already provides employees with supplemental COVID sick leave that pays them at least the same amount as required by the new law, the employer may count those hours toward meeting its requirements under the legislation.
  • COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave is in addition to any paid sick leave the employee may be entitled to under the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014, Labor Code section 246 (“HWHFA”). This benefit requires employers to provide up to 80 hours of supplemental paid sick leave to employees if they are directed by their employer to self-quarantine, isolate or not report to work due to COVID-19 exposure, symptoms, and/or illness.
  • If an employer illegally withholds COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave, they may be subject to a penalty of at least $250 per day, but not to exceed $4,000 in the aggregate.
  • This law is effective immediately and expires December 31, 2020 or upon the expiration of any extension of the federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, whichever is later.

AB 685
(notifying employees of potential COVID exposure within one business day)
While this bill was written to address concerns of workers in meatpacking plants, it also covers health workers who DO NOT conduct COVID testing or screening, or provide direct care to patients known or suspected to be COVID-positive, this law:
  • Requires that within one business day, they be notified of potential exposure to anyone known or presumed to be COVID-positive in the specific location where they work;
  • Protects them from retaliation for reporting positive cases;
  • Ensures that they are made aware of sick leave and other benefits.
For health care employees who DO conduct COVID testing or screening, or provide direct care to patients known or suspected to be COVID-positive, the above provisions apply ONLY if the person known or presumed to be COVID-positive to whom they have been exposed is another employee in the specific location where they work.
The bill covers EVS and dietary workers, however we are awaiting administrative clarification on how it will apply to EVS and dietary workers who regularly work in COVID patients’ quarters.
This law also:
  • Empowers CalOSHA to issue citations more quickly and shut down worksites where COVID-19 presents an imminent threat.
  • Takes effect on January 1, 2021 and sunsets on January 1, 2023.