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4 Brand New California COVID Laws Employers Should Know: 2021 Compliance Lookout

October 16, 2020 - minute read

If you operate in California—and even if you don’t—heads up! While a number of state legislatures have been relatively inactive this year due to COVID-19, California’s has been anything but. In the closing days of its most recent legislative session, lawmakers passed several COVID-related bills impacting employers, which were then signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom.

Two of these laws went into effect in September, and the other two become effective January 1, 2021. Employers in the Golden State need to move fast to remain compliant. Even if you don’t do business in California, it’s still wise to stay informed. Often, laws that begin in California are adopted elsewhere—and the longer the pandemic continues, the more likely other states will follow suit. Here’s what to keep on your radar.

1. Large CA Employers Must Now Pay Supplemental COVID-19 Sick Leave

This law went into effect on September 19, 2020. It’s designed to complement the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

As you know, the FFCRA requires employers with fewer than 500 workers to provide up to two weeks of paid sick leave arising from COVID-19.

Correspondingly, this law requires private businesses with 500 or more workers to provide 80 hours of paid sick leave to covered workers who:

  • Are subject to a government quarantine order
  • Have been told by a healthcare provider to quarantine and/or
  • Are prohibited from working in order to limit transmission of COVID-19

Like the FFCRA, this law is set to expire on December 31, 2020. However, if FFCRA coverage is extended, these benefits will be, too.  

2. CA Workers’ Compensation Now Covers COVID-19

Effective September 17, 2020, this new law expanded California Workers’ Compensation benefits to presumptively include illness or death arising from COVID-19 when a worker tests positive within 14 days of attendance at work.

The positive test must occur during a workplace outbreak. For employers with more than 100 workers, an outbreak is defined as when 4% of workers test positive and the workplace is closed by the local public health department. For employers with 100 workers or less, an outbreak is defined as when four employees test positive.  

Employers can dispute the presumption by providing evidence that they’ve put safety measures in place to reduce the spread of COVID or of an employee’s non-occupational risk.

Workers must exhaust all paid sick leave benefits specific to COVID-19 before applying for Workers’ Compensation. This law remains in effect through January 1, 2023.

3. CA Employers Must Meet a New COVID Reporting Requirement 

Effective January 1, 2021, both public and private employers are required to notify workers when they may have been exposed to COVID-19 at the workplace. In addition, employers must notify their local public health departments of COVID-19 outbreaks.

The new law also gives Cal/OSHA more power to enforce these rules and shut down worksites deemed “imminent hazards.” 

ebook - COVID handbook sample-1

4. The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) Has Been Expanded

This change to the CFRA goes into effect January 1, 2021. While it is not specific to COVID, it was likely influenced by it—and will most certainly make a difference to families impacted by the virus.

First of all, the CFRA—which currently applies to employers with 50 or more employees—will be broadened to apply to those with as few as five employees on January 1. It requires employers to provide workers with up to 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave per 12-month period.

The law currently defines family members as spouses, minor children, dependent adult children, and parents. As of January 1, that definition will be expanded to include domestic partners, grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, and all adult children.

This change may create a challenge for employers with 50 or more employees that are subject to the FMLA. Up until now, CFRA and FMLA leave ran concurrently, so workers were only eligible for 12 weeks unpaid leave total.

However, because the CFRA definition of family member will be broadened, a worker may be eligible for, say, up to 12 weeks of CFRA leave to care one relative followed by 12 weeks of FLMA leave to care for another—or up to 24 weeks of leave in one year!

How Employers Can Stay Compliant

For more information about each of these laws—including specific actions to take to ensure compliance—download our new report, States of Change: 2020 Wage & Hour Updates for the Hourly Workforce.

One of those actions, of course, is making sure your HR software is actively helping you maintain compliance. For example, EPAY’s HCM system helps employers achieve labor compliance on every level, no matter how many worksites they manage. We do this through a combination of automated safeguards, extensive reporting and analytics, and an online learning system that simplifies compliance training for managers and employees. You can learn more when you read the report.    

Filed Under: Compliance California COVID-19