Workers Comp Zone


The 2021 California legislative season ended on October 10, the deadline for Governor Newsom to act on bills.

How did the interests of California injured workers fare this year? In this year’s legislative battles over worker rights, who were the winners and who lost?

Despite Democratic dominance in the California Assembly and California Senate, and a Governor who pitches himself as a friend of labor, few pro-worker bills made it into law.

In a big disappointment for CAAA, Newsom vetoed AB 788 (Bradford), an anti-discrimination measure. I covered this in my September 29 post:

Disappointing firefighters, Newsom vetoed AB 872 (Wood), which would have allowed certain California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection employees to draw one year of full salary in lieu of temporary disability.

And rejecting the efforts of farmworkers, Newsom vetoed AB 616 (Stone), a measure to expand agricultural worker rights in union elections. 

Newsom also vetoed AB 1074 (Gonzalez), a bill aimed at protecting jobs of hospitality workers whose employers closed during the pandemic and then re-opened.

California workers’ comp bills that stalled in legislative committees in 2021 include the following:

     • AB 1465 (Reyes) (a bill which initially would have created a statewide MPN provider network, but later was reduced to a bill requiring a study)

     • SB 213 (Cortese) (a bill to create a presumption of industrial causation for healthcare workers, covering infectious diseases, PTSD, respiratory disease, cancer and musculoskeletal conditions)

     • SB 284 (Stern) (to create industrial presumption for certain classes of safety workers and first responders who claim PTSD)

    • AB 404 (Salas) (requiring review of the medical-legal fee schedule every two years)

     • SB 334 (Mullin) (skin cancer presumption for state park workers and game wardens)

So the bottom line is that CAAA and its allies had a very bleak year in the legislature . And there was no glimmer that the Governor has any particular interest in or inclination towards expanding rights of California injured workers. But there was no significant erosion of workers’ comp rights either.

A list of other bills affecting workers that were introduced but stalled in 2021 should include the following:

     • AB 95 (Low) (expanded bereavement leave)

     • AB 1179 (Carrillo) (employer childcare costs)

     • AB 1041 (Wicks) (expanded family leave and paid sick leave)

     • AB 1119 (Wicks) (create duty of employer to accommodate worker family responsibilities)

     • AB 1192 (Kalra) (create a duty for large employers to report certain data on workforce)

     • SB 410 (Leyva) (bill to expedite Cal/OSHA standards)

     • AB 995 (Gonzalez) (expanded sick leave)

Workers’ comp bills were not on this year’s California Chamber of Commerce Job Killer list, but many of the other bills listed above were. So while liberals and progressives dominate the California legislature, the business community is clearly able to mount a robust effort to stop some of the more aggressive proposals from California progressives.

What, you ask, were the bills that made it into law?

Here is a list of bills that were signed into law this year:

     • SB 221 (Wiener) (requires health plans to provide timely access to mental health providers)

     • AB 1561 (extends the exemption of certain jobs and professions from application of the “ABC” employment test set forth in Labor Code Section 2775)

     • SB 606 (Gonzalez) (strengthens Cal/OSHA enforcement)

     • AB 1511 (Committee on Labor and Employment) (revised notice requirements for workers’ comp policy cancelations)

     • AB 701 (Gonzalez) (regulates warehouse worker quotas)

     • AB 1003 (Gonzalez) (makes specified amounts of wage theft punishable as grand theft)

     • AB 654 (Reyes) (COVID-19 notice requirements by employers and the California Department of Public Health)

     • SB 62 (Durazo) (prohibits piece-work compensation in the garment industry)

It appears the most successful 2021 bills dealt with specific employer abuses. Those abuses include wage theft, problematic labor practices in the warehouse industry, failure of health plans such as Kaiser to offer timely mental health visits etc etc.

It is unclear what the future will hold. But overall, the pattern seems to reflect that this Governor is willing to plug holes in the safety net and deal with abuses that affect particular groups of workers. However, he may not be inclined to make major expansions in worker rights or entitlements, and does not have a great interest in the details of the workers’ comp system.

Here is a link to the California Legislative Information website where readers can seek more information on the bills mentioned in this post:

Stay tuned.

Julius Young