Workers Comp Zone


A lot is at stake in tomorrow’s California elections. But workers’ comp is not one of the headline issues.

What are some of the knowns and what are “known unknowns” as pertains to California workers’ comp?

Polls suggest that Gavin Newsom will be elected governor by a large margin. Workers’ comp is a topic that has hardly come up at all in the 2018 gubernatorial campaign, if at all. Who Newsom would rely on for advice on workers’ comp issues has been a source of speculation among many of the stakeholders. Many seem to believe that he would be more of a referee among warring workers’ comp stakeholders than an originator of further reforms.

Although Newsom supported some of the post-2000 reform efforts, it appears he was not directly involved and there is a thin trail of evidence regarding his thinking.

We do know that Newsom is concerned with workforce development/training, particularly with issues surrounding how employment is changing in a tech-driven economy where increasing numbers of workers are doing gig-based work. He’s been widely quoted musing about a start-up near his San Francisco office that is working on a robot-made hamburger.

The definition of employment under California law has been of increasing interest after the 2018 California Supreme Court decision in Dynamex Operations West. v. Superior Court. An attempt to craft a legislative fix died in the legislature at the end of the 2018 session. The issue will likely return under Newsom, however.

We also know that he is concerned about health care reform.

So the issues of “single payer’ and the definition of employment will likely be issues that get focus in his administration. Both of these issues have some impact on California workers’ comp.

But his thinking on further workers’ comp reforms and changes to the system remains a question mark.

Another race of some import for workers’ comp is the race to succeed outgoing Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.

Former Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, running as an independent rather than as a Republican , faces Senator Ricardo Lara. Poizner is said to be slightly ahead in polls and has garnered a majority of newspaper editorial board endorsements.

The California Insurance Commissioner  has no direct control over workers’ comp policy, but is charged with setting a non-binding recommended workers’ comp rate.

In the past, Poizner has not been afraid to reject rate recommendation requests by the WCIRB. For example, my blog entry in November 2007 noted that Poizner had rejected a recommended rate increase:

In 2008 Poizner made recommendations to the WCIRB about some changes to their methodology of estimating and reporting costs. These changes were adopted by the WCIRB in 2009 and were covered in my blog on September 29, 2009, “Poizner’s Directive Bears Fruit”:

Lara has pushed SB 562, the “Healthy California Act”, a bill to set up single payer in California. In 2017 Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon refused to bring this to a floor vote. Critics noted that the goal was laudable but the bill was short on realistic funding details.

More recently Lara has inquired into how the California retraining voucher system (the SJDB benefit) is working. My October 2018 post “”SJDB Under the Microscope” noted Lara’s request for a study of the SJDB program:

Stay tuned.

Julius Young