Lawmakers throughout California are starting to face a new reality when it comes to Covid-19. As workers face new challenges and risks performing their jobs, workplace laws may need to change. The question is whether those changes will be temporary or permanent. People across the country have a newfound appreciation for the difficult and necessary jobs so many essential workers perform. That could help the push for new protections for all workers.
Certain state and federal laws already provide some protection for employees. For example, some employers must provide paid sick leave for workers sick with Coronavirus. State and federal unemployment insurance covered many workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The federal portion of those payments is currently in limbo, however. Some workers have also been allowed to use state disability insurance.
State lawmakers are now considering whether to expand worker protections. For example, they may change leave requests, flexibility with meal and rest breaks and more flexibility when working from home. In addition, one bill would require employers to help pay for equipment needed to work from home, as well as covering home internet bills.
Governor Gavin Newsome said he wants to work with the state legislature to extend current protections and possibly add new ones. Labor leaders and legislators are starting to recognize that our workplaces may never be the same. Even if we manage to eradicate Covid-19, some changes could stay with us.
Changes to workers’ compensation
Lawmakers are also discussing ways to ease access to workers’ compensation benefits for people who contract Covid-19. One bill adds Covid-19 to the list of covered illnesses and injuries under workers’ comp laws. It also shifts the burden to the employer to prove the employee did not contract Covid-19 at work. Of course, employers are fighting many of these proposals.
All proposed bills must be on Gov. Newsom’s desk by August 31. Time will tell whether any of those changes become law and whether they end up as temporary solutions or long-term changes to California’s employment laws.