SB 1159 and How it Impacts Employers in California

Several weeks ago, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 1159 into law. SB1159 establishes the presumption (which previously did not exist) that certain employees who test positive for COVID-19 contracted the virus at work. This means for purposes of workers compensation benefits employers must now prove an employee DID NOT contract the virus in the workplace for purposes of paying out benefits under the employer’s workers compensation policy.

The presumption being “disputable” provides employers a chance to dispute the claim if they can show proof of preventative measures taken to protect the employee from COVID-19 in the workplace, and/or an employer can demonstrate an employee likely contracted COVID-19 outside of work.

Who is covered under SB 1159?

SB 1159 applies to all employees that contract COVID-19 during an outbreak at their place of work. The new labor code requires employers to track positive COVID 19 tests among employees to determine if an “outbreak” has occurred.

The specific conditions that define an “outbreak” depend on the size of the business; for every business with 100 or fewer employees, 4 employees must test positive for COVID-19, and for every business with 100 or more employees, 4% of the total staff at one location must test positive for it to be considered an outbreak.

What do employers have to do to comply with the new law?

SB 1159 requires companies to report COVID-19 positive cases to their workers compensation carrier as follows:

  • Incidents from 7/6/20 – 9/16/20 (must be reported within 30 business days of 9/17/2020.)
  • Now employers have 3 business days to report known positive test results for their employees.  This obligation runs through 1/2023.

For more information:

Department of Industrial Relations FAQ


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