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Important California COVID-19 Updates

September 21, 2020

In the past two weeks, Governor Newsom signed several bills into law in an effort to provide aid to Californians in the face of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. California businesses and employers take note:

SB 1159 immediately creates a presumption that a covered worker’s illness or death from COVID-19 is work-related and entitles them to workers’ compensation, putting the burden on their employer to rebut the presumption. The bill allows employers to refute the presumption by pointing to measures they took to reduce the potential transmission of the disease or pointing to a worker’s non-occupational risks of COVID-19 infection.

For health care facility workers, there is no presumption if the employer can show the worker did not have contact with a patient who tested positive in the last 14 days. In addition to first responders and those in the health care field, the law also applies to workers who test positive during an outbreak at their workplace, as defined by the bill.

The rebuttable presumption created under the law will remain in place until January 2023. Governor Newsom had previously established a temporary rebuttable presumption in an executive order in May 2020 that expired in July 2020.

SB 1447 extends tax credits up to $100,000 for small businesses who hire new workers. The relief sought to aid businesses — largely minority-owned establishments — that did not receive federal Paycheck Protection Program loans.

AB 685 requires employers to notify workers within one business day of receiving notice of a potential exposure to COVID-19. Employers must also notify local public health officials within 48 hours if the number of cases they have meets the state’s definition of an outbreak. This new law also gives the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health authority to shut down businesses it believes are exposing their workers to risk of infection to the point that they’re an imminent hazard to employees. AB 685 won’t take effect until January.

AB1867-Earlier this month, Newsom signed a paid sick leave law that gives all California workers who test positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to the Coronavirus that causes the disease access to paid sick time for the balance of 2020.

The Governor’s office reported that the new law “closes the gaps in paid sick days” that exists between the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and Newsom’s prior executive order by including large employers with over 500 workers as well as public and private entities that employ first responders and health care workers and chose not to cover their employees under the federal law.

Covered employers must provide this leave no later than September 19, 2020. The law will remain in effect through December 31, 2020 or upon the expiration of any federal extension of the FFCRA, whichever is later. However, any employee who is out on COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave at the time the law expires will be allowed to take the full amount of leave to which they are entitled.

SB 1383 ensures job-protected leave for Californians who work for an employer with five or more employees to bond with a newborn, care for a seriously ill family member, address a military exigency or care for their own illness. This aligns the employer size threshold under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) with the employer size threshold in Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL), a program that has been in place since 1978. While employers are not required to provide paid leave under the new bill, an employee’s position must be “preserved” during the period of the leave.

JoLynn M. Scharrer (scharrer@huntortmann.com) is a shareholder at Hunt Ortmann and leads the firm’s Employment Law Group. Our team is ready to guide you with handling your employment matters.

Please contact us at: employment@huntortmann.com

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