Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday announced signing an executive order that would make it easier for workers who become sick with COVID-19 to claim compensation benefits.
Under the order, Californians diagnosed within two weeks of reporting to work between March 19 and July 5 will be presumed to have contracted the virus on the job.
It will fall on employers to refute any claims for medical coverage and benefits.
“If you’ve tested positive or been diagnosed with COVID 19 by a physician, you are eligible for this workers comp benefit,” Newsom said. “It can only be rebutted by your employer, but under strict criteria.”
The order applies to all workers, from nurses and first responders to maintenance, warehouse, farm and grocery store workers, said Victoria Hassid, director of the California Department of Industrial Relations.
State officials will release additional details in the coming days, Hassid said.
The California Labor Federation commended the governor’s move.
The coalition has pressed state officials since March to place the burden of proof on companies to fight any claims, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“California continues to set the national standard for worker protection during this crisis,” Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, said in a statement Wednesday. “We look forward to working with the legislature and the governor in the coming weeks to build upon these important protections so that all workers who put their health at risk on the job have this critical safety net program to rely upon if illness strikes.”
The California Chamber of Commerce, one of many business groups that opposed the California Labor Federation’s request, said the governor’s order will unnecessarily drive up costs for companies “at a time when they are struggling to keep Californians employed.”
The group posits that workers with COVID-19 should be able to receive benefits under the federal CARES Act, and that the governor’s order shifts the cost of the pandemic to employers.
“The private sector did not cause this crisis and it should not be the safety net used to pay for this crisis–that is the role of government,” CalChamber said in a statement.
Newsom signed the executive order as California prepared to reopen nonessential businesses beginning on Friday.
As of Wednesday, the COVID-19 hospitalization rate has dropped by about 1% and ICU cases have fallen about 1.5%.
Ninety-five people died of the disease over the past 24 hours, bringing the total of coronavirus fatalities in the state to 2,412, Newsom said. California has reported a little more than 58,800 COVID-19 cases.
“The worst thing we can do is have a worker that has tested positive but doesn’t want to tell anybody, and can spread the disease, because he or she can’t afford not to work,” the governor said. “That’s why we’re expanding [workers compensation to] all sectors of our economy.”
Additionally, Newsom proclaimed executive orders to extend deadlines on property taxes for residents through the end of the year and for small businesses through the end of the month.
He also announced that 4.2 million Californians have filed for unemployment, and that about $10.6 billion in unemployment benefits have been distributed since mid-March.