SB 1127 and AB 1751: Improvements to the California Workers’ Compensation System
LIAM H.P. CASEY
Mastagni Holstedt, APC
In a decisive victory for California’s first responders, Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 1127 on September 29, 2022, to take effect on January 1, 2023. This bill makes three improvements to the California workers’ compensation system.
- Shortened time periods. SB 1127 shortens the window for employers to determine liability on claims for presumptive injuries suffered by peace officers and firefighters from 90 to 75 days. Presumptive injuries are those that are legally presumed to be caused by the employment. (See Labor Code sections 3212 to 3212.85 and 3212.9 to 3213.2.) With these types of injuries, the burden falls on the employer to prove the injury is not work-related, and the employee does not have the burden of proving the injury is work-related. For police officers, presumptive injuries include cancer, hernias, heart trouble, pneumonia, blood-borne infections, meningitis, tuberculosis and lower-back injuries arising from wearing a duty belt.
Under this new law, employers will have less time to accept or deny a presumptive injury claim. However, this shortened time period does not apply to denying claims for every potential injury. Only those considered to be presumptive injuries for first responders.
The presumption can be rebutted, where employers can still demonstrate the injury did not arise out of employment. It is important to know what injury is being claimed and whether the reduced time period will apply.
- Temporary disability. SB 1127 allows peace officers to receive up to 240 weeks of temporary disability benefits for presumptive cancer claims rather than the 104 weeks of temporary disability available to other injuries. This change from 104 weeks of temporary disability within five years from the date of injury to a total of 240 weeks during the entire period of the claim means that temporary disability benefits do not have to be received within five years from the date of injury. This increase in temporary disability eligibility applies to Labor Code section 3212.1 cancer claims that arise on or after January 1, 2023.
- Increased penalty. Finally, SB 1127 increases the penalty for employers who unreasonably deny any presumptive injury claim arising under California Labor Code sections 3212 through 3213.2 from $10,000 to five times the amount of the delayed benefits, not to exceed $50,000. However, SB 1127 does not define what constitutes an “unreasonable denial,” so the local workers’ compensation appeals board will have to determine the “reasonableness” of a denial in the context of each case.
This increased penalty also applies to all presumptive injuries, regardless of when they occurred, not just injuries that occur after the effective date of this new law.
On the same day, Governor Newsom also signed AB 1751, which represents another improvement in the workers’ compensation system for certain types of California public safety employees.
- Extension of COVID-19 presumptions. This bill extends the presumption of injury for COVID-19 workplace outbreaks from the original January 1, 2023, deadline to January 1, 2024. At the same time, AB 1751 expands the types of employees who qualify for the presumption to include officers of a state hospital under the jurisdiction of the State Department of State Hospitals and the State Department of Developmental Services. Officers of a state hospital under the jurisdiction of the State Department of State Hospitals and the State Department of Developmental Services are also included.
- Public policy. Ultimately, SB 1127 demonstrates a public policy emphasis on quickly investigating and providing treatment for presumptive injury claims brought by California’s first responders. Expanding temporary disability benefits to 240 weeks, while limited to cancer claims, is yet another positive shift in existing law. AB 1751 demonstrates that the state is still grappling with the effects of COVID-19 in the workplace and has now included additional types of public safety employees who qualify for the COVID-19 presumption.
About the Author
Liam H.P. Casey is an associate attorney in the workers’ compensation department at Mastagni Holstedt, APC. He provides advice and counsel to clients throughout all aspects of the California workers’ compensation system.