California Extends Workers’ Comp Presumption for COVID-19

calendar September 21, 2020
| 4 Minute Read

On Sept. 1, 2020, California amended its workers’ compensation (WC) law, under Senate Bill 1159 (SB1159), to provide a presumption that COVID-19 is a compensable, work-related condition under certain circumstances. The bill is expected to be signed into law but will otherwise go into effect on Sept. 30, 2020.

In general, the changes mean that it would be an employer’s burden to prove that an employee did not contract COVID-19 on the job, rather than the employee’s burden of proving that he or she did contract it on the job.

A similar presumption was previously implemented under Executive Order N-62-20, but that had only applied for employees who worked outside their homes between March 19 and July 5, 2020. With some modifications, the new law adopts and expands that order to cover certain employees through Jan. 1, 2023. It also creates retroactive and ongoing reporting requirements for employers with five or more employees in the state.  

This Compliance Bulletin provides a general overview of the amendments.

Action Steps

California employers should become familiar with SB1159, review their policies and procedures to ensure compliance, and prepare to submit reports on any employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 since July 6, 2020.

Employers should also follow all workplace safety guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health authorities to minimize the risk of employees contracting COVID-19 on the job.


Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system that provides medical expenses and lost-income replacement for employees who sustain injuries or illnesses that arise out of and in the course and scope of their employment.

Each state has its own workers’ compensation law that governs the process of determining whether an injury or illness is work related and therefore compensable. Under California’s workers' compensation law, employees typically have the burden of proving that any claimed condition is work related.

On May 6, 2020, however, California’s governor issued Executive Order N-62-20 to reverse that burden for employees who were diagnosed with or tested positive for COVID-19 within 14 days after working at their places of employment between (and including) March 19 and July 5, 2020.  On Sept. 1, 2020, the California legislature passed SB1159 to add the provisions of that order to the state’ workers’ compensation law and to extend the presumption that COVID-19 is work related to certain employees through Jan. 1, 2023.

New Presumptions Under SB1159

SB1159 creates a new presumption that COVID-19 is compensable for the following types of workers, if they test positive for COVID-19 within 14 days after working at a place of employment (not including their own homes), at an employers’ direction, on or after July 6, 2020:

  • Active firefighting members (including volunteers) of various, local, state and federal fire departments;
  • Peace officers who primarily engage in active law enforcement activities;
  • Fire and rescue services coordinators who work for the Office of Emergency Services;
  • Health facility workers who provide direct patient care to or come into contact with COVID-19 patients;
  • Certain registered nurses, emergency medical technicians and emergency medical technician-paramedics;
  • Workers who provide direct patient care for a home health agency; and
  • Workers who provide in-home supportive services outside their own homes.

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Combined HR Services provides practical human resources information and guidance based upon our experience in the industry and our experience with our clients.  Combined HR Services are not intended to be a substitute for professional advice.  Combined HR Services are designed to provide general information to human resources and/or business professionals regarding human resources situations commonly encountered.  Given the changing nature of federal, state and local legislation and the changing nature of court decisions, Combined HR Services cannot and will not guarantee that the information is completely current or accurate.  Combined HR Services do not include or constitute legal, business, international, regulatory, insurance, tax or financial advice. 

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