CA Workers’ Compensation Presumption & COVID

September 18, 2020

California Governor signed legislation to establish a workers’ compensation presumption that will apply to almost all employers in the state that have a COVID-19 “outbreak”.

At a Glance

Effective immediately, California Senate Bill 1159:

  • Shifts the burden of proof to presume that covered workers who contracted COVID-19 did so at work, unless the employer can prove otherwise;
  • Enacts a rebuttable presumption that applies to first responders and certain health care workers; and
  • requires employers to provide notice to their workers’ compensation carrier of employees who test positive for COVID-19.


On September 17, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation to establish a workers’ compensation presumption that will apply to almost all employers in the state that have a COVID-19 “outbreak”.  

“Outbreak” Presumption

For California employers with five or more employees, the law adopts a complex “outbreak” analysis. Under the law, the rebuttable presumption will apply if an “outbreak” occurs, which is defined as any of the following:

  • If the employer has 100 employees or fewer: four employees test positive for COVID-19 with 14 calendar days;
  • If the employer has more than 100 employees: 4% percent of the number of employees test positive for COVID-19 within 14 calendar days; or
  • The place of employment is ordered closed by public authorities due to a risk of infection with COVID-19.

This presumption goes into effect immediately, and is retroactive to cases arising on or after July 6, 2020. This presumption will apply until January 1, 2023.

Presumption for First Responders and Health Care Workers

The law establishes a similar rebuttable presumption for COVID-19 cases contracted by certain first responders and health care workers. This presumption applies from July 6, 2020 and will operate until January 1, 2023.

The first responders and health care workers presumption covers firefighters, peace officers, employees of health facilities who provide direct patient care or custodial services, nurses, EMTs, and employees who provide direct patient care for home health agencies. The presumption also applies to other employees of health facilities, but the presumption for these employees does not apply if the employer can show the employee did not have contact with a patient who tested positive for COVID-19.

New Employer Reporting Requirements

Under the new law, once an employer “knows or reasonably should know” that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19, it shall report the following information to its workers’ compensation claims administrator within three business days:

  • An employee has tested positive;
  • The date that the employee tests positive (the date the specimen was collected for testing);
  • The specific address or addresses of the employee’s place of employment during the 14-day period preceding the positive test; and
  • The highest number of employees who reported to work in the 45-day period preceding the last day the employee worked at the place of employment.

Additionally, the new law requires covered employers to report any positive tests and the information required above to their claims administrator dating back to July 6, 2020. Employers only have 30 days from the date the bill was signed to report this previous information to their claims administrator. A civil penalty of up to $10,000 can be imposed for noncompliance.

Next Steps

Employers should plan on working with their legal counsel and workers’ compensation claims administrator on how to implement these new changes.

Thank you for choosing Paylocity as your Payroll Tax and HCM partner.

This information is provided as a courtesy, may change and is not intended as legal or tax guidance. Employers with questions or concerns outside the scope of a Payroll Service Provider are encouraged to seek the advice of a qualified CPA, Tax Attorney or Advisor.