California governor signs laws to protect workers from virus

California companies must warn their workers of any potential exposure to the coronavirus and must pay their employees workers compensation benefits if they get sick with the disease under two laws that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Thursday.

Posted: Sep 18, 2020 9:14 AM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California companies must warn their workers of any potential exposure to the coronavirus and must pay their employees workers compensation benefits if they get sick with the disease under two laws that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Thursday.

Newsom, a Democrat, signed the laws over the objections of business groups, who have said they are “unworkable.”

One of the laws makes people who have the coronavirus eligible for workers compensation benefits. It takes effect immediately and applies to all workers in the state, but it treats first responders and health care workers differently than other employees.

Police officers, firefighters and health care workers — including janitors who are in contact with COVID-19 patients — are eligible if they get infected while on the job.

All other workers are eligible only if their workplaces experience an outbreak. For companies with between five and 100 employees, the law defines an outbreak as four or more infected workers who work at the same location within a two-week period.

For companies with more than 100 employees, outbreaks are defined as at least 4% of workers working in the same location being infected during a two week period.

The rules for first responders and health care workers are permanent. The rules for everyone else expire on Jan. 1, 2023.

Workers don’t have to prove they were infected on the job to get benefits because the law assumes they got it while working. Instead, employers must prove that their workers did not get the virus while on the job to deny coverage.

In a letter to the state Legislature last month, business groups said they supported that for first responders and other groups at high risk of contracting the disease. But they said it wasn’t fair to do that for other occupations with a lower risk of infection. They called the law “unworkable for employers.”

Newsom signed the law, authored by Democratic state Sen. Jerry Hill, during a Zoom call with supporters, including labor union leaders and members.

Monique Hernandez, a nurse, said nine of her fellow nurses were infected, though she works in an area called a “clean unit” where she does not have contact with coronavirus patients.

“There is no such thing as a clean unit when it comes to COVID-19,” she said. “I took that very personal.”

The second law that Newsom signed mandates that companies tell employees if they have been exposed to someone who has either tested positive, been ordered to isolate or died because of the virus. That law, authored by Democratic Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez Reyes, takes effect Jan. 1.

Companies must do so within one business day of learning of the exposures or they can face fines issued by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

Business groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce, opposed the bill because they said the law is vague and will be difficult for businesses to comply with, resulting in “good employers” facing hefty fines.

Newsom countered that the two laws “prioritize our workforce,” including front line workers he said politicians “pay a lot of lip service to, but often we don’t back up.”

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3563578

Reported Deaths: 51953
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles119089421328
Riverside2894503767
San Bernardino2862912816
Orange2610223904
San Diego2596413271
Santa Clara1104221777
Kern102627826
Fresno952021443
Sacramento931801472
Alameda804961241
Ventura77534844
San Joaquin665691101
Contra Costa62164674
Stanislaus56024946
Tulare47784758
Monterey42138328
San Mateo38922515
San Francisco34213410
Santa Barbara31763409
Solano30024164
Merced28915397
Sonoma28063298
Imperial26888591
Kings21951218
Placer19763232
San Luis Obispo19612227
Madera15436209
Santa Cruz14588183
Marin13136197
Yolo12816185
Shasta10972174
Butte10941160
El Dorado9095100
Napa901469
Sutter884597
San Benito575959
Yuba573336
Lassen560119
Tehama508152
Nevada395274
Tuolumne394659
Mendocino379643
Amador345741
Humboldt318033
Lake315341
Glenn222023
Colusa212813
Calaveras190547
Siskiyou174014
Inyo128737
Mono12114
Del Norte9875
Plumas6536
Modoc4524
Mariposa3957
Trinity3675
Sierra990
Alpine810
Unassigned00
Chico
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