Saturday, January 28, 2023

California ends mandatory COVID-19 pay for employees

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California will no longer require businesses to pay employees who are unable to work because they contracted the COVID-19 virus while on the job.

For the past two years, California labor regulators have tried to slow the spread of the coronavirus by requiring infected workers to stay home while guaranteeing infected workers full pay for their days off.

But on Thursday, the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board voted to phase out that rule in 2023 because the rule has become more difficult to enforce. Only people exposed to the virus while at work are eligible to continue receiving their pay, but the coronavirus is now so widespread that it’s hard to know exactly where someone got sick.

In addition, changes to quarantine rules mean that most workers who have been exposed to the virus are no longer required to stay home unless they have symptoms and test positive for the disease.

Although the board approved the new rule by a vote of 6 to 1, several board members said they were disappointed that the rule had been changed. The new rules will last for two years because they are temporary rules put in place in response to the pandemic.

Regulators will begin working on permanent rules soon, and on Thursday several board members vowed to make sure the permanent rules include a requirement that sick workers continue to be paid.

“We will now tell workers that they should be put out of work if they are sick because of workplace exposure, but we will not require that they be paid. We all know that this will require people to work when they are sick. Will be,” said board member Laura Stock. “I really want to make sure we don’t make that mistake again.”

Employees missing work due to the coronavirus can use sick leave. A state law, passed earlier this year, requires companies to give workers up to two weeks of paid time off if they get sick with the coronavirus. But that law expires in December, and it’s unclear whether lawmakers will extend it through 2023.

Not all workers, including low-wage workers in service industries such as fast food restaurants, are on sick leave. Those employees can apply for workers’ compensation benefits if they have to miss work hours because they have the coronavirus, but the process is difficult and there’s no guarantee they’ll be approved.

Mitch Steiger, chief legislative advocate for the California Labor Federation, said workers’ compensation claims are five times more likely to be filed than people who file non-coronavirus claims.

“It does not matter from where the worker contracted the virus. Coming to work can turn into a workplace outbreak,” Steiger said.

Although the rules for paid workers are changing, much of the other COVID-19 regulation remains in place. The state still has rules about ventilation, testing and how to handle outbreaks. Businesses must still notify employees if they have been exposed to the virus at work, and must provide free coronavirus testing to workers who have been in close contact with another person at work who has become infected.

Business groups on Thursday urged the board to reject the rules, arguing that there should be no coronavirus standard at all. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom will end the state’s coronavirus emergency declaration and all executive orders in February. On Thursday, the Orange County Public Health Agency announced it was shifting its response to the coronavirus “from an emergency posture to regular business operations.”

“Now is the time to end it,” said Rob Moutier, policy advocate for the California Chamber of Commerce.

Nation World News Desk
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