Workers' Compensation


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February 2024

By Julius Young, Esq. Boxer Gerson, Oakland, CA

At the California legislature in 2023, who were winners and who were losers? Overall, it was not a year for big workers’ comp bills. The workers’ comp bills that passed and were signed are largely niche bills. For non-workers’ comp bill affecting California workers, union-sponsored bills had some notable success but some bills failed as well. Workers’ comp winners this year included the following:

• Firefighters  Why? AB 700 (Grayson) provides for University of California to develop a California Firefighter Cancer Prevention and Research Program).

• Department of Forestry Firefighters Why? AB 621 (Irwin) amended LC 4707 to exempt them from limits on death benefits , allowing both workers’ comp death benefits and CalPERS death benefit.

• Certain other public safety workers Why? SB 623 (Laird) expanded the rebuttable PTSD presumption to include them, and moved the sunset date to 1/1/29.

• Honest contractors Why? AB 336 (Cervantes) requires contractors to certify workers’ comp insurance policy class codes when renewing their contractor licenses and requires the Contractors State License Board to pose licensee codes and insurer on its website.

• Honest employers Why? SB 743 (Nguyen) added a fraud statement requirement for employers securing workers’ comp coverage. These are designed to discourage employer fraud.

• Employer & insurer coalition entities such as CCWC and CWCI Why? It appears they were able to convince Governor Newsom to veto a smattering of bills sponsored by CAAA or certain public employee groups who sought expanded presumptions.

Other winners included:

• Workers needing to take sick time Why? SB 616 (Gonzalez) expands the minimum paid sick time from 3 days to 5 days

• Cannabis users Why? SB 700 (Bradford) will make it unlawful to ask job applicants about prior cannabis use except under specified exceptions.

• Workers experiencing wage theft, misclassification & labor standards violations Why? AB  594 (Maienschein) expands and strengthens public prosecutor’s right to enforce state labor laws against wage theft, misclassification. etc.

• Fast food workers Why? A negotiated compromise kept a planned initiative challenging some recent legislation off the ballot in exchange for raising the minimum wage at large chain locations and specified composition of a fast food council.

 Workers experiencing workplace threats, violence and harassment Why? SB 553 (Cortese) requires workplace violence prevention plans, logs of violent incidents, and requires Cal/OSHA standards. SB 428 (Blakespear) expands employers’s ability to seek restraining orders under specified conditions in the event an employee is being harassed and irreparable harm could result.

• Health care workers Why? Specified health care workers will receive minimum wage increases, to $26 per hour in 2026.

• Workers claiming retaliation Why? SB 947 (Smallwood-Cuevas) establishes a rebuttable presumption in favor of an employee’s claim if an employer retaliates against the employee within 90 days of engaging in protected activity.

• California labor unions Why? They prevailed on some significant bills as noted above.

• Gavin Newsom Why? Newsom managed to sign some bills that were important to labor while vetoing others, thus using the “paddle to the left, paddle to the right” strategy used by Jerry Brown over the years.  In so doing he managed to avoid signing some legislation that might not play well in a national presidential campaign.

But there were losers this year as well:

• CAAA and the injured workers they represent Why? Governor Newsom vetoed AB 1213 (Ortega), which would have excluded up to 90 days from the aggregate temporary disability cap if an injured worker prevailed in appealing a utilization review denial to IMR. Also, CAAA’s hopes for SB 631 (Cortese) failed when it did not move to a vote by the legislature (the bill provided that upon appropriation for a study, the UC Berkeley Labor Center would be tasked with conducting a study of differences in workers’ compensation provided to employees of different genders).

• State Fish and Game and Parks and Rec Workers Why? Despite passage of SB 391 (Blakespear) which would have established a skin cancer industrial presumption, the bill was vetoed by Governor Newsom.

• Employees of State Hospitals and Department of Corrections Why? Governor Newsom vetoed AB 1145 (Maienschein) which provided an industrial presumption for PTSD for those workers.

• California labor unions Why? Although they did prevail on a number of significant bills noted above, Governor Newsom vetoed other labor-backed bills. Here is an October 2023 e-blast statement from Lorena Gonzalez of the California Labor Federation.

    ” Labor had some big wins this session: paid sick days, increased labor law enforcement, stronger workplace safety protection, higher minimum wage for fast food and healthcare workers, skilled and trained protections on new projects, and organizing rights for legislative staff. We were also able to get $2 million to fund healthcare for workers on strike, an expanded Film Tax Credit to preserve good union jobs in the entertainment industry, and $18 million for local agencies to do labor law enforcement.

   Unfortunately, some of our most important bills to protect striking workers and workers trying to organize were vetoed:

  • SB 799 would have allowed striking workers to access unemployment benefits that they already earned. 
  • AB 316 would have protected public safety and good jobs by requiring a human operator on autonomous big rig trucks.
  • SB 627 would have required corporate chains to give workers the opportunity to transfer to another store after a closure.

   Vetoes won’t stop us. We plan to come back next year and get these bills done to build worker power and protect good union jobs from automation and artificial intelligence.”

Stay tuned.

Julius Young

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