By Julius Young, Partner Boxer Gerson Oakland
Which California workers and stakeholders were winners and who were losers in the recent legislative session?
Winners include the following:
• Firefighters and public safety workers
Why? SB 1127 will shorten the investigation period for presumption claims of workers eligible for presumptions, i.e. police, fire and various public safety personnel/first responders. The time will be shortened from 90 to 75 days. Additionally, a penalty of up to $50K will be possible upon a WCAB finding that an employer unreasonably denied a presumption claim. Those workers who have compensable presumptive claims will be eligible for up to 240 weeks of temporary disability rather than the 104 weeks that apply to other injured workers. Firefighters and public safety personnel are among those who will benefit from AB 551 which extends COVID disability retirement presumptions until 1/1/24. And they will benefit from AB 1722 which amends some of the retirement calculations for CALPERS disability retirement. Also, AB 151 extends 1 year of salary continuation in lieu of TD to Department of Forestry firefighters and up to 3 years in the event of severe burns. And AB 1751 extends the COVID presumption statute until 1/1/24, and expands the categories of first responders eligible for the COVID presumption.
• Workers exposed to high heat
Why? AB 1643 creates a task force to study the effect of extreme heat on California workers, business and the economy. AB 2243 requires Cal/OSHA to create a heat safety standard for extreme temperatures and strengthens the standard for requiring respiratory equipment when the air quality index is poor. AB 2238 requires the development of an extreme heat advance warning system.
• Honest contractors
Why? SB 1064 and SB 216 mandate comp coverage for certain contractors and as of 1/1/2026 SB 216 will require all contractors to have workers’ comp coverage unless they come within a very narrow specified organizational structure. Honest contractors are at a disadvantage when dishonest contractors don’t have comp coverage. This bill may eventually help. However, a bill to require a study of staffing firm premium shifting tactics (AB 2614) did not advance to passage.
• Workers seeking psychological treatment in workers’ comp
Why? SB 1002 provides that licensed clinical social workers can be added to MPNs to provide behavioral and mental health treatment upon referral from a physician. Although the impact may be gradual, this has the eventual potential to add more options for injured workers, who currently often have trouble accessing mental health treatment within the MPNs.
• Opponents of workers’ comp fraud
Why? SB 1242 requires agents and brokers to take fraud training to renew licenses, and requires reports on suspected fraud under certain circumstances. SB 1681 will allow self-insureds to meet with county DAs and the California Department of Insurance to discuss fraud situations.
• Users of cannabis
Why? AB 2188 makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate in hiring, firing or employment conditions based on off-the-job cannabis use, except for limited categories of workers such as those in construction or jobs requiring federal background checks.
• Fast food industry workers
Why? AB 257 will create a Department of Industrial Relations fast-food council to negotiate wages, working conditions, health and safety issues, etc. for fast food industry workers, and establishes certain protection against discrimination and retaliation in the industry.
• California farm workers
Why? AB 2183, sponsored by the UFW, strengthens the hand of farmworkers who seek to organize and unionize.
Losers this year include the following:
• Groups seeking expanded presumptions
Why? Governor Newsom vetoed two bills which would have expanded presumptions to additional workers. AB 334 would have created a skin cancer presumption for California Fish and Game and Parks and Recreation peace officers. SB 284 would have extended a post-traumatic stress presumption to additional first responders. SB 213, which did not advance in the legislature, would have created a rebuttable injury presumption for hospital workers who contract specified conditions.
Why? AB 404 failed. The bill would have provided for review of the Medical-Legal Fee Schedule every 2 years, with indexing.
• Single payer healthcare proponents
Why? AB 1400 went nowhere. It would have created a single payer healthcare system in California.
• Proponents of broad California workers’ comp reforms
Why? Stakeholders who would like to see significant changes in the California system did not get their wish this year. AB 2848, seen as a placeholder bill for a possible workers’ comp reform package, did not emerge as a vehicle for reform arising from rumored talks among key parties. Instead, AB 2848 only extended the time for a study on changes made to prospective utilization review. A bill to address MPN access problems (AB 399) was amended and then died.
• Proponents of using pay data information in the workers’ comp system
Why? SB 1162 did pass, but an earlier version that would have required adjustments in workers’ comp benefits based on pay data information was dropped out of the bill.
For a list of additional bills that failed to advance, you can see my post “What Failed”.
To view the text and legislative history of any of the bills mentioned in this post, you can check the California legislative website.