California Workers’ Comp System Potentially Strained by COVID-19 Presumption

Last month, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order granting a presumption to workers’ compensation claims throughout the state. The presumption stated that any employed person who receives a positive COVID-19 diagnosis may assume they contracted it at work.

While this presumption came as a welcome concession to those who may have been forced or encouraged to work under unsafe conditions and got sick as a result, it may lead to potential problems as well.

One of the most concerning issues is that the presumption could add billions of dollars in costs to California’s already overburdened economy, which has been further impacted by the current economic downturn caused by the novel coronavirus. The state’s current workers’ compensation system is relatively modest compared to the possible influx of new claims.

In addition, there are a few reasons that a presumption may not have been needed in the first place:

  • Employers appear to be accepting coronavirus claims: Though the situation is still developing, early reports suggest that the only coronavirus-related claims that are being denied are those involving negative COVID-19 tests.
  • Every individual is at a different level of risk: While some jobs are clearly putting their employees at high risk, such as hospital and grocery store workers, others are able to work in environments where they rarely come into contact with others. These individuals may also, for example, go shopping, meet with friends, and partake in other activities that put them at higher risk of infection than their job does.
  • The state’s reopening is not limited to workplaces: Finally, the presumption assumes that everyone with a job is only leaving their house to go to and from work, but this cannot be true. Many people also leave home to go to the store, the bank, the beach, and many other locales, especially as more and more businesses and venues reopen.

By automatically assuming that workers are contracting COVID-19 at their jobs when tracking such a thing is impossible, especially considering testing is only just becoming widely available, the presumption is forcing billions of new costs on employers at a time when they can least afford it. Though people working during a pandemic should absolutely be protected by the workers’ compensation system, it remains to be seen whether the broad scope of the presumption does more harm than good, and if employers will be able to pay their workers who do need benefits the compensation they deserve. Either way, our firm stands ready to assist with workers’ compensation claims during this time.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and you believe you may have been exposed to the virus at work, we can help. Contact Ufkes & Bright today to work with one of our Santa Ana workers’ compensation attorneys.