COVID-19 Update: Gov. Newsom Signs UNAC/UHCP-Backed Bill on COVID-19 Claims

The new law prevents employers from automatically denying workers compensation for health care employees and others on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle. The legislation creates a ‘rebuttable presumption’ that COVID-19-related illness or death is a workplace injury and therefore eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

Today, UNAC/UHCP members and President Denise Duncan, RN, witnessed California Gov. Gavin Newsom sign a new law that will help registered nurses and other health care employees access workers’ compensation benefits when they contract COVID-19.

Senate Bill 1159, which prevents employers from automatically denying worker claims, creates a rebuttable presumption that illness or death related to COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) is an occupational injury and therefore eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. The rebuttable presumption is a tool to protect employees from employers who would seek to deny a workers’ compensation claim by shifting the burden to an employee to prove they contracted COVID-19 while working.

UNAC/UHCP takes charge
UNAC/UHCP immediately took action when the COVID-19 pandemic struck earlier this year. As a result of our union’s support and influence, Gov. Newsom signed an executive order in May that temporarily created the rebuttable presumption for COVID-19 workers’ compensation benefits.

Covered workers specified under the newly signed law include peace officers, firefighters, specified front-line employees, and certain health care employees, as defined. This presumption will help employees receive benefits such as medical treatment and hospital/surgery expenses.

California is among a handful of states to expand workers’ compensation benefits to employees during the pandemic. Despite heavy opposition by the health care industry, UNAC/UHCP worked with other partners to pass the bill.

Supplemental leave
Our union also won another bill (AB 1867), recently signed by Gov. Newsom, that provides supplemental paid leave for California employees. That bill also provides coverage to health care providers and emergency responders whose employers have elected to exclude them from the paid sick leave coverage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

Together, we are protecting our profession, our members, and the people we take care of.