CA Governor’s Workers COVID-19 Compensation Order


If you are injured or develop an illness related to your work, you are entitled to receive certain benefits. That is the point of California’s workers’ compensation system: to ensure that people who are hurt or become ill as a result of their jobs get what they need to recover. Prior to May 6, 2020 injured workers had to prove that a COVID-19 diagnosis was related to work in order to qualify for benefits.

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Fortunately,  an executive order signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on May 6, 2020 offers relief from this dilemma. Under Executive Order N-62-20, workers who are diagnosed with an illness related to COVID-19 no longer have to prove that they contracted it at work, if they meet certain criteria. Instead, there is a rebuttable presumption that the illness is work-related.

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 and have been working outside of your home, this executive order may allow you to receive workers’ comp benefits. A Walnut Creek workers’ compensation attorney can help, advocating for your rights throughout the process.

The Challenge of Obtaining Workers’ Comp Benefits for Coronavirus

California’s workers’ compensation system allows an employee who has been injured or become ill on the job to qualify for certain benefits. This includes medical care, temporary and/or permanent disability payments, and job displacement benefits. Because workers’ comp is a no-fault system, workers do not have to prove that their employer did anything wrong in order to recover benefits.

However, just because workers’ compensation is no-fault does not mean that any and all claims for benefits will be approved. To qualify, an employee must show that the illness or injury arose out of employment and occurred during the course of employment. A good test for this is to ask if the injury or illness would have occurred without the employment?

This question can be easily answered for many workplace injuries. For example, if a worker fell from scaffolding on a construction site, it is obvious that they would not have suffered injuries in the fall but for their job. Similarly, if an employee develops a skin condition due to exposure to the chemicals in cleaning products used at their job, it may be relatively straightforward to show that they wouldn’t have the condition but for their work.

When the illness is linked to a virus — like the novel coronavirus — it can be much more difficult to show that it arose out of and occurred during the course of employment. Given the nature of coronavirus and the way that it spreads, it may even be impossible to conclusively prove that a worker contracted the virus at their job. 

Consider this situation: Mary works for an agency that provides community mental health services. As part of her job, she is required to go to clients’ homes. She also has to stop at her office to pick up and drop off paperwork.

If Mary is diagnosed with COVID-19, she may have trouble demonstrating that she contracted the virus at work. She also could have been exposed when getting groceries, stopping to get gas, or even if she came in contact with someone with the virus while exercising outside. Unless she can show a direct link, such as a client or coworker who she came into contact with also testing positive for COVID-19, she may not qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.

The executive order signed by Governor Newsom in May changes that reality. If California employees meet certain criteria, then any COVID-19-related illness will be presumed to arise out of and in the course of the employment for the purpose of workers’ compensation benefits.

How the Governor’s Order Makes It Easier to Obtain Benefits

Recognizing the difficulty of proving that a COVID-19 related illness was work-related, Governor Newsom announced that he had signed an executive order to address this issue. According to Governor Newsom, the purpose of the order was to remove “…a burden for workers on the front lines, who risk their own health and safety to deliver critical services to our fellow Californians, so that they can access benefits, and be able to focus on their recovery.”

Under the order, there is now a rebuttable presumption that a coronavirus diagnosis is work-related if certain conditions are met:

  • 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;
  • The day on which 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;
  • The employee’s place of employment was not the employee’s home or residence; and
  • The diagnosis was done by a physician who holds a physician and surgeon license issued by the California Medical Board and that diagnosis is confirmed by further testing within 30 days of the date of the diagnosis.

This presumption is in effect for coronavirus illnesses that are diagnosed between March 19, 2020 and July 5, 2020.

In practice, this means that employees who went to work or performed work at the direction of their employer do not have to prove that their COVID-19 diagnosis is linked to their work. This should make it easier for workers to obtain benefits during the pandemic.

This presumption is rebuttable, which means that an employer could introduce evidence to show that an employee’s COVID-19 diagnosis was not work-related. For example, if an employer found evidence on an employee’s social media showing that they attended a party with dozens of other people, that may be used to overcome the presumption that the illness is work-related.

The executive order also shortens the typical 90 day time period for an employer to deny a workers’ compensation claim. For COVID-19 related illness, employers have just 30 days to deny a claim. If they fail to do so, then the claim is presumed to be compensable, unless they introduce evidence that could not have been discovered within the initial 30 day period.

If an employee’s workers’ compensation claim related to COVID-19 is accepted, then they are eligible for all benefits available under California’s workers’ comp laws. This includes hospital, surgical and medical treatment benefits, as well as temporary and permanent disability payments. In addition, if a worker dies from coronavirus, then their family would be entitled to death benefits.

Do You Have a Work-Related Illness or Injury? We Can Help.

If you have been injured or diagnosed with an injury that is related to your job, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. These benefits can provide critical support during a time that you are unable to work. A Walnut Creek workers’ compensation attorney can help you with the process, from filing the initial claim to appealing any denial of benefits. 

Appel Law Firm LLP represents individuals who have suffered on-the-job injuries or illnesses as they navigate the often complicated California workers’ compensation system. We aggressively advocate for our clients’ right to benefits. To learn more or to schedule a free initial consultation, (925) 938-2000 or email us at any time.

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