Approximately three months into the unprecedented pandemic that drastically altered the way of life worldwide, states cautiously began lifting stay-at-home orders. California, one of the states hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, was among these states. The gradual reopening of California’s economy was cut short as a spike in COVID-19 cases in early July 2020 resulted in Governor Gavin Newsom ordering that certain businesses with indoor operations, such as restaurants and movie theaters, cease indoor operations “which promote the mixing of populations beyond households and make adherence to physical distancing and wearing face coverings difficult.[i]” Indeed, the risk of contracting the virus is undoubtedly at the forefront of the minds of both employers and employees as they return to their places of employment. This article explores some of the issues posed by COVID-19 in the context of recent changes to California’s workers’ compensation laws and the impact of these changes on employers, as well as issues concerning employers’ potential exposure to litigation for COVID-19 related claims.

1. A Brief Overview of the California Workers’ Compensation Act

California’s workers’ compensation laws are codified in Labor Code §§ 3200-6200, referred to as the Workers’ Compensation Act. The primary purpose of California’s workers’ compensation statutes is to insure that an injured employee and his or her dependents have adequate means of sustenance while the employee is unable to work[ii]. The laws also promote the employee’s prompt recovery so that he or she can return to the workforce[iii]. Accordingly, the burden of caring for the injured worker and his or her dependents is shifted from society to industry, which assumes the responsibility as a cost of doing business[iv]. The provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act must be liberally construed in the employee’s favor, and all reasonable doubts as to whether an injury arose out of employment are to be resolved in favor of awarding the injured employee compensation[v].

In order to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits under California law, two conditions must be present: (1) an employer-employee relationship[vi] and (2) an injury suffered by an employee that arises out of and in the course of the employment relationship[vii].

California defines an employee as every person in the service of an employer under any appointment or contract of hire or apprenticeship, express or implied, oral or written, whether lawfully or unlawfully employed[viii]. Any person rendering service for another is presumed to be an employee[ix]. Independent contractors, defined as any person who renders service for a specified recompense for a specified result, under the control of his principal as to the result of his work only and not as to the means by which such result is accomplished[x], are specifically exempted from this presumption[xi].

For an injury to arise out of the employment, it must occur by reason of a condition incident to the employment[xii]. That is, the employment and the injury
Continue Reading Legal Issues Posed by Sweeping Changes to the California Workers’ Compensation Act by Executive Order N-62-20: A Primer for Employers