California Modifies California’s Workers’ Compensation Laws to Deal with COVID-19

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In yet another effort to adapt California law to the current pandemic, on May 6, 2020 California Governor Newsom signed Executive Order N-62-20 (the “Order”).  As it pertains to workers’ compensation benefits, the Order provides that any COVID-19 related illness of an employee shall be presumed to arise out of and in the course of the employment for purposes of awarding workers’ compensation benefits if all of the following are true:

  1. The employee tested positive for or was diagnosed with COVID-19 within 14 days after a day that the employee performed labor or services at the employee’s place of employment at the employer’s direction;
  2. The day that the employee performed labor or services at the employee’s place of employment at the employer’s direction was on or after March 19, 2020;
  3. The employee’s place of employment was not at the employee’s home or residence; and
  4. The employee’s diagnosis was done by a licensed physician and is confirmed by further testing within 30 days of the date of the initial diagnosis.

The presumption applies only to dates of injury occurring through 60 days following the Order’s execution – July 5, 2020 – and is rebuttable.  If it is not rebutted then the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board is bound to accept the presumption. 
In addition to establishing a presumption for workers’ compensation benefits, the Order also establishes eligibility requirements for employees seeking temporary disability benefits for COVID-19 related illnesses.

While the Order emphasizes Governor Newsom’s plan of providing California employees with an expanded safety net during the current global health crisis, it also serves as an important reminder to California employers.  Some employers may believe that during the current crisis they have the option of relaxing their compliance with certain laws, including laws relating to providing disabled employees with reasonable accommodations.  This is not the case.  To the extent California’s employment laws need to be changed or modified to fit the current crisis,  the Governor (or legislature) will take explicit steps to make those changes or modifications.  Until then California employers must be sure to stay in compliance with any and all laws as they exist on the books and the failure to do so is a risky and dangerous proposition.

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