Ossie Cousins spoke to Law360 about several employment laws that passed in California last year for an article discussing the major legislative and regulatory developments that California attorneys will be watching in 2021.
One law – S.B. 1159, which went into effect on January 1, 2021 – creates a presumption that an employee’s COVID-19 illness is an occupational injury, qualifying the employee for workers’ compensation benefits. Ossie noted that these presumptions are rebuttable, since historically, illnesses have not been subject to workers’ compensation.
“In some ways that’s good for both employers and employees,” Ossie said. “The employers generally limit workers’ compensation because you can’t have a runaway damages award.”
Ossie also discussed S.B. 1383, which alters the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) to require employers with more than five workers to give workers up to 24 weeks of protected leave in a 12-month period under certain circumstances. He noted that many small-business owners likely aren’t aware of the changes to the CFRA under S.B. 1383, which he emphasized has a lot of procedural payroll reporting requirements, and a violation could result in a wrongful termination claim and significant penalties and damages.
Companies that don’t comply could see themselves at the business-end of a “pretty full-blown lawsuit,” according to Ossie, who added, “it’s really something that needs to be taken very seriously by organizations. I think it will be a challenge, to say the least, for small employers.”
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