GOVERNOR GAVIN Newsom has signed legislation that creates a new framework for COVID-19- related workers’ compensation claims. SB 1159 replaces an executive order that Newsom made on March 18 that required all employees working outside the home who contracted COVID-19 be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if they file a claim. The new law expands that rebuttable presumption” that a coronavirus case is work-related to front-line workers, as well as employees in workplaces that have had an outbreak of cases. The new law is retroactive to July 6, the day after Newsom’s executive order expired, and is set to expire Jan. 1, 2023. Employers with fewer than five employees are exempt under the statute.
SB 1159’s three parts
Part 1. The law codifies Newsom’s prior executive order that provided a “rebuttable presumption” that COVID-19 was contracted in the scope and course of work by employees working outside of the home who get infected.
Part 2. The law provides a rebuttable presumption that firefighters, law enforcement officers, health care workers and home care workers who contract COVID-19, contracted it in the workplace.
Part 3. The law creates a rebuttable presumption that a worker’s COVID-19 diagnosis is work-related within 14 days of a company outbreak. Under SB 1159, an outbreak is defined as when four employees test positive at a specific place of employment with 100 or fewer employees and, for larger places of employment, when 4% of the employees test positive. It’s also deemed a workplace outbreak if the employer had to shut down due to the coronavirus.
Rebutting a claim
Employers can rebut the presumption that COVID-19 was contracted at work if they have:
• Proof of measures they put in place to reduce potential transmission of COVID-19,
• Evidence of the employee’s nonoccupational risks of contracting COVID-19,
• Statements made by the employee, or
• Any other evidence normally used to dispute a work-related injury.
When an employer learns of an employee testing positive, they must report to the insurer the following information within three business days:
• The date the employee tested positive.
• The address or addresses of the employee’s specific place(s) of employment during the 14-day period preceding the date of their positive test.
• The highest number of workers who reported to work in the 45-day period preceding the last day the employee worked at each specific site.
Filing False Information Can Result in a $10,000 Fine
The Rossi Law Group has the following recommendations for employers in California:
• Keep track of all locations each employee works at, the number of employees on each day at each location, as well as a log of those that test positive (including the date the specimen was collected).
• If you are aware of any staff who have tested positive between July 6 and Sept. 17, you have 30 days after Sept. 17 to report the positive test to the claims administrator.
• You must also report to the insurer positive COVID-19 results for employees that are not filing claims. In that case, you must omit personal identifying information of the employee.
• Provide any factual information to the claims administrator that could help rebut any claim of work-relatedness.
The law also has some teeth: Anyone who submits false or misleading information shall be subjected to a civil fine up to $10,000.
One last thing…
The governor also signed into law AB 685, which requires employers to report an outbreak to local public health officials. Employers must also report known cases to employees who may have been exposed to COVID-19 within one business day.
Do you have a risk management plan? You should.
RISK MANAGEMENT – Even Small Firms Need a Crisis Management Plan
With risks to companies and employees growing, sometimes the unthinkable happens and a business has a real crisis on its hands. While large companies are usually well-prepared for a crisis should one occur, most small and mid-sized firms don’t have the resources or have not put much thought into how they would handle a crisis.
One of the most difficult parts of crisis planning is just what to prepare for, since a crisis could be a number of different events, like:
• The sudden death of a key member of your team.
• A defective product leads to an injury, illness – or worse.
• An accident severely maims or kills a number of your workers.
To get started, assemble a team that includes key members from your organization who will be responsible for creating your crisis-response plan. INC. Magazine recommends the following for your team:
Make a plan – You cannot start planning without first identifying your objectives. Once you identify them, you can make response plans for each type of event. Typically, that includes:
• Safeguarding any person (employee, vendor, customer and/ or the public) who may be affected by the crisis. Your plan would include how to respond to the crisis if people’s health and wellness are at stake.
• Making sure the organization survives. This would include steps you would take to ensure the company can continue as a going concern after a significant disruption.
• Keeping stakeholders (employees, vendors, clients, the public and government) informed on developments.
Create a succession plan – You should clearly outline the necessary steps to follow if you or one of your key managers suddenly became unable to perform their duties. This plan may include selling the company, or transferring ownership to family members or key employees.
Seek advice from the experts – This includes your leadership team, employees, customers, communications experts, investment bankers, exit planners, lawyers and financial managers. Each of these individuals has unique insights that can be invaluable for how to tackle a crisis.
Name a spokesperson – This is important if you have a crisis that spreads beyond your organization and affects the health and safety of a member of the general public, your staff or customers. Funneling all media communications through a spokesperson can help you deliver a clear and consistent message to media, as well as to the public at large.
Honesty is the best policy – A lack of honesty and transparency can lead to rumors, as well as a general distrust of your organization if the truth is exposed. The best approach is to be transparent and truthful about what happened and what you are doing to resolve the crisis.
Keep your staff up to speed – To stop the rumor mill and also keep employees from becoming worried amidst the uncertainty, keep your workers abreast of developments – and what the crisis means for the organization, and what you are doing about it.
Keep customers and suppliers informed – If you have an event that’s causing some disruptions, you also owe it to your clients and vendors to let them know what’s happening. Like your employees, keep them regularly updated on events and the steps you are taking to address the crisis. Put together a plan for how you would keep them posted.
Act fast and update regularly – Keeping the communications alive is important and once you grasp the situation and its effects, you can issue summary statements of the crisis and what’s happened. Then you can follow up with regular updates on your action plans, on people affected, any hotline you may set up, and more.
These days news travels fast and like wildfire on social media. You need to move at the same pace.
Social media is vital – More and more people get their news from social media and the discussions that ensue on posts, so you need to make sure that your company stays on top of the flow. You may want to assign a person or two to monitor social media and post and react to posts on social media. That way, your team can tell the company’s side of the story and put to rest unfounded rumors.
Make a plan for what a social media contact’s responsibilities would be during a crisis.
Get an early start
Your plan won’t be effective if you create it during a crisis. Plan in advance, so everyone can approach the strategizing unrushed and with a clear head.