On September 17, 2020, Governor Newsom signed
SB 1159 (Hill, D-San Mateo), which directs the Workers’
Compensation system to presume that an employee’s illness related
to coronavirus is an occupational injury and therefore eligible
Compensation benefits if specified criteria are met. The
bill creates a “rebuttable presumption” for healthcare
workers, first responders, or workers on any worksite that has an
outbreak of COVID-19.
The law specifically allows school employees to automatically
qualify for the Workers’ Compensation presumption if their school
is closed for COVID-related issues. Employees who are sick can
stay home and be provided Workers’ Compensation benefits, thereby
reducing the spread of the virus to others at work and in the
How is outbreak defined?
If you are not a healthcare worker or first responder,
eligibility for this presumption is triggered if there is an
outbreak at your workplace. An outbreak exists if, within a
timeframe of 14 days, one of the following occurs at a worksite:
- If the employer has 100 employees or fewer, and four
employees test positive;
- If the employer has more than 100 employees, and 4 percent of
the number of
employees who reported to the specific place of
employment test positive; or
- A specific place of employment is ordered to close by a local
public health department, the California Department of Public
Health, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or a
school superintendent due to risk of infection from COVID-19.
If my job requires me to travel to multiple worksites, do I
qualify for the presumption?
If you are required to travel to multiple worksites and an
outbreak exists at any of them, you are eligible for the
presumption. Similarly, if a worker who travels to multiple
worksites tests positive, the worker’s positive test must be
counted for the purpose of determining the existence of an
outbreak at each of those various places of employment.
Can employers dispute the presumption?
Yes, the employer can dispute this, hence the term “rebuttable
Workers Compensation presumption.”
However the new law presumes that if a worker tests positive when
a worksite outbreak exists, then the injury is work-related and
the worker is eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits. This
law shifts the burden of proof from the worker to the employer.
To rebut or dispute this presumption the employer bears the
burden of proving that the injury or illness did not occur at
work. Even if the employer rebuts or disputes your claim, you
still have the right to have your claim be heard and be decided
by a Workers’ Compensation judge.
What benefits are available under Workers’ Compensation?
Workers’ Compensation insurance provides five basic benefits.
Medical care: Reasonable and necessary medical
treatment paid for by your employer to help you recover from an
injury or illness caused by work.
Temporary disability benefits: Payments if you
lose wages because your injury prevents you from doing your
usual job while recovering.
Permanent disability benefits: Payments if you
don’t recover completely.
Supplemental job displacement benefits:
Vouchers to help pay for retraining or skill enhancement if you
don’t recover completely, and don’t return to work for your
Death benefits: Payments to your spouse,
children, or other dependents if you die from a job injury or
If I am eligible for the presumption, can my employer require me
to use my leave?
It depends upon the type of sick leave benefits you are using.
- If your employer is providing you paid sick leave
specifically available in response to COVID-19 (such as under the
federal Families First
Coronavirus Response Act or
California Executive Order N-51-20), then you must use that
sick leave before you receive temporary disability benefits.
- If you do not have any supplemental paid sick leave
specifically available in response to COVID-19, temporary
disability benefits should be paid by your employer from the time
you became disabled. This means that, if you took paid leave
(sick leave, vacation time, personal time) through your
employer’s plan, that leave should be restored back to you.
If I do not qualify for the presumption, can I still file a
Workers’ Compensation claim?
Yes. If you are an employee and suffer a job-related injury or
illness, you are entitled to file for Workers’ Compensation
benefits. If you don’t qualify for a presumption under the new
law, you may still be eligible to receive Workers’ Compensation
benefits if you contracted COVID-19 at work. You will need to
meet the standard threshold requirements, including proving that
your injury or illness arose out of your employment.
FLYER & Resources
The CFT has prepared a flyer with the Worker’s Compensation
presumption info on this page for easy distribution to union
Who to contact at CFT for more information
- Email CFT Legislative Representative Michael Young or telephone (916)