Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order on May 6, 2020 that creates a rebuttable presumption that employees working outside the home who contract COVID-19 became infected at work. They would therefore be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

Here’s how the presumption works. An employee will be presumed to have contracted the virus at work if:

  1. The employee tested positive for or was diagnosed with COVID-19 within 14 days after the employee worked at his or her place of employment at the employer’s direction;
  2. The date the employee worked as described in the preceding paragraph was on or after March 19, 2020;
  3. The workplace was not in the employee’s home; and
  4. If the employee was diagnosed with COVID-19, but was not tested, the diagnosis was given by a physician licensed in California and is confirmed by further testing within 30 days of the diagnosis.

Of course, there’s no factual basis for the presumption. Someone could have been exposed anywhere and in the vast majority of cases, we may never know the source of exposure. But the governor has decided that California employers, so many of whom are already struggling to survive, should bear the cost of care through higher workers’ compensation insurance premiums.

Takeaway: If an employee tells you they believe they have COVID-19, and they meet the criteria above, you have one workday to get them the claim form (DWC 1). Also, advise your workers’ comp carrier immediately, since the time to try to show alternative causes is extremely limited.