UPDATE! California’s Governor Newsom Signs New Legislation Affecting Public Safety Employees
October 6, 2022
In an expected move given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, on September 29, 2022, Governor Newsom signed into law two workers’ compensation bills, AB 1751 and SB 1127, but vetoed another bill, SB 284.
The signing of AB 1751 extends the currently existing presumption of injury for certain types of public safety employees and when an “outbreak” of COVID-19 occurs at the place of employment. These presumptions now expire January 1, 2024 instead of January 1, 2023. AB 1751 also expands the types of employees who qualify for the presumption, even without an outbreak, to include active firefighting members of a fire department at the State Department of State Hospitals, the State Department of Developmental Services, the Military Department, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, and to officers of a state hospital under the jurisdiction of the State Department of State Hospitals and the State Department of Developmental Services.
The signing of SB 1127 also significantly expands temporary disability benefits for safety officers who have injury or illness related to cancer. This is changed from 104 weeks within five years from the date of injury to a total of 240 weeks, during the entire period of the claim (meaning it does not have to be within five years from the date of injury).
The bill also increases the possibility of – penalty claims relating to an unreasonable denial of claims made against certain safety officers who qualify for presumptions of injury contained within Labor Code sections 3212 to 3212.85 and 3212.9 to 3213.2, which includes cancer, hernia, heart trouble, pneumonia, blood-borne infections, meningitis, tuberculosis, and low back (for peace officers wearing a duty belt) from $10,000 to $50,000, while simultaneously shortening the time frame for denial from 90 days to 75 days.
SB 1127 also requires the Administrative Director to develop a workers’ compensation information system to allow data to be collected electronically, including information regarding the date of acceptance, denial, or conditional denials.
SB 284, however, was vetoed by Governor Newsom. This bill proposed to expand the existing rebuttable presumption for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to additional classes of safety officers, dispatchers, telecom and emergency response communication employees. In his veto message, Governor Newsom advised that expanding the PTSD presumption before any studies have been conducted on the existing injured workers who qualify for the presumption “could set a dangerous precedent that has the potential to destabilize the workers’ compensation system” as others may “push for similarly unsubstantiated presumptions.”
The continued presumption of injury for COVID-19 is not unexpected given the new variants of COVID-19 and continued recurrence. The penalty and denial timeline changes are important for public employers as it demonstrates a public policy emphasis on quickly investigating and providing treatment on presumptive COVID-19 claims. The expansion of temporary disability benefits to 240 weeks relating to cancer claims is a stark change in the existing law, but is limited in scope to cancer claims. Fortunately, Governor Newsom’s veto of SB 284 demonstrates a modicum of willingness to limit the expansion of presumptive claims to other classes of injury.
Laughlin, Falbo, Levy & Moresi, LLP.