The Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce on April 22 asked businesses to reach out to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office to voice concerns about an executive order he is supposedly considering.
According to reports from CalMatters
, labor groups are encouraging the governor to move forward with an order that would create a presumption that any essential employees who contracts COVID-19 qualify for workers compensation benefits. The California Chamber of Commerce and other business groups are arguing this would put an unfair financial burden on employers.
Santa Maria Chamber President Glenn Morris said this potential executive order would fundamentally change how workers compensation eligibility is determined.
“The way worker’s comp works is somebody gets injured, they determine whether that was a result of work and if that was true, workers comp kicks in and the employer continues to cover wages and costs of injury,” Morris said. “This would change that. It would be assumed that if you got COVID-19, it was because of your work.”
Morris said the increased number of workers comp claims that would be approved under this potential order would present local businesses with additional expenses at a time when employers are already suffering financially.
Earlier this month, the Workers Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau of California released an analysis
on the potential cost of workers compensation claims for workers deemed essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to this report, the cost ranges between $2.2 billion and $33.6 billion, with a mid-range of $11.2 billion, which is about 61 percent of the estimated cost of workers compensation for this year prior to the pandemic.
Santa Maria City Councilmember Gloria Soto said workers deemed essential, such as those in grocery stores and hospitals, should receive extra protection during this time.
“They are putting themselves in the path of the virus to be able to fulfill their job duties,” Soto said. “If they are stepping up to be our heroes, if they are the ones bagging our groceries, if they are the ones picking our crops, if they are the ones who are keeping the wheels turning in our communities, it's essential that we do our part in taking care of them if they were to become sick.”
Although the governor’s office has not acknowledged this potential order publicly, state legislators have introduced bills that would make it easier for some essential workers to access workers compensation benefits.
One proposed bill, Assembly Bill 664 would grant certain health care workers and first responders with this presumption if they work in an area under a state of emergency declaration. Another proposal, Senate Bill 1159, would extend this presumption to a larger group of workers, but it would allow employers to contest whether the employee actually contracted the virus at work. ∆