Every year starts with a bevy of new laws and regulations affecting employers and businesses in California, and many of the new rules this time around are an outgrowth of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on workers.
Employers in California in the year ahead have a number of changes they have to contend with, some of which were enacted near the end of 2020 as emergency regulations or legislation.
In this issue, we’ll cover the first five of the top 10 rules and regulations affecting employers in 2021.
1. COVID-19 workers’ compensation rules
AB 1159, which took effect in September, is an expansive law requiring that workers’ compensation benefits be extended so that any employee who reports to a workplace and contracts COVID-19 is presumed to have contracted it at work, making them eligible for workers’ comp benefits.
But the law also imposes sweeping reporting rules for employers that have outbreaks in their workplaces (it’s considered an outbreak if 4% of an employer’s workers test positive for COVID-19). Under new rules by the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau, though, COVID-19 illness claims will not count against employers’ experience modifiers (X-Mods).
When reporting a COVID-19 claim to their insurance carrier, employers must provide the following information:
- The date the worker tested positive,
- The address of the worker’s place(s) of employment during the 14 days preceding the positive test, and
- The highest number of employees who reported to work in the 45 days preceding the last day the employee worked in the workplace.
The above must be reported for each COVID-19 case in the workplace. The law sunsets on Jan. 1, 2023.
2. Cal/OSHA COVID-19 rules
Cal/OSHA in November enacted emergency regulations that impose strict rules on employers to implement safeguards in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading in the workplace.
The sweeping regulations extend the reach of protections to employer-provided housing and transportation, as well as imposing new reporting requirements on employers who have workers that contract the coronavirus. Yes, these are more reporting requirements on top of the ones for workers’ compensation cases.
The rules require employers to take a number of steps to ensure the safety of their workers, including creating a COVID-19 prevention plan, requiring masks, social distancing and other ways to reduce the likelihood of virus spread.
Also, employers must investigate coronavirus cases in their workplace. If they discover one of their staff has contracted COVID-19, they must notify all employees at a worksite who might have been exposed, within one day. Workers who may have been exposed must be offered COVID-19 testing at no cost. Employers must report coronavirus cases in their workplaces to local health authorities.
3. Cal/OSHA authority on stop-work orders
Before Cal/OSHA came out with its emergency COVID-19 regulations, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law AB 685, which expands the agency’s authority to issue stop-work orders to workplaces it deems a COVID-19 “imminent hazard.”
But many in the regulated community say the new law is duplicative and conflicts with the emergency regulations, and that it will confuse employers as to their obligations.
The new law also requires employers to send notices to a number of parties (state agencies, local authorities, employees, contractors and more) if they have coronavirus infections in any of their facilities. All of these notices have a number of requirements that employers will need to follow to avoid penalties.
Notice to employees must include information regarding COVID-19-related benefits the employee may be eligible for under federal, state and local laws, such as:
- Workers’ compensation benefits,
- COVID-19-related leave,
- Company sick leave,
- State-mandated leave, and
- Supplemental sick leave.
4. Expansion of California Family Rights Act
SB 1383, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2021, will expand the California Family Rights Act to cover even small employers ― those with five or more staff.
The CFRA, which requires covered employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year for family and medical leave purposes, currently only applies to employers with 50 or more workers.
The new law also expands the scope of “family members” for whom employees can take leave to help care for them to include siblings, grandparents, grandchildren and domestic partners. Also, the law expands the definition of “child” to include all adult children (regardless of if they are dependents) and the children of a domestic partner.
5. Independent contractor law tweaked
AB 2257, which took effect in September 2020, revises the controversial AB 5 independent contractor law by adding a number of exceptions for certain classes of workers.
If you remember, AB 5 created a new standard for discerning what workers should be classified as employees or independent contractors and it swept up a number of professions in its net, causing some consternation and hand-wringing among both employers of those contractors and the independent contractors themselves.
The professions that are now exempt include:
- Graphic designers
- Web designers
- Freelance writers
- Editors and content contributors.