California hospital workers could soon be guaranteed workers’ compensation


Eli Kirshbaum


A bill that would expand what constitutes an “injury” meriting workers’ compensation for hospital workers has passed the California Senate and awaits further deliberation in the Assembly. SB 213 would expand these types of injuries to include infectious diseases, cancer, and respiratory illness—including COVID-19. 

The bill would also provide “rebuttable presumption” of workers’ compensation, meaning hospital employees would no longer be required to prove their injuries occurred during the course of their work.


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Originally introduced last year by Sen. Dave Cortese (D – San Jose), the bill progressed through the Senate but was ultimately tabled in June. The bill failed to receive enough votes on the Senate floor in 2021 due to concerns over specific presumptions in the bill. 

In response, Cortese has added several amendments this year, including one to narrow the types of cancer that could apply to the compensation. Another amendment removed the bill’s sunset date.

The legislation hopes to address the difficulty many hospital employees currently have with receiving compensation for sickness or injury, particularly as they face continued risk of contracting COVID-19.

“In order to establish an entitlement to worker’s compensation benefits, it is the employee’s burden of proof to establish that an injury or disease arose out of employment and occurred in the course of employment. Presumptions help lessen this burden …” said the California Nurses Association (CNA), another sponsor of the bill, in a statement in support.

A key aspect of the bill, said Cortese  on the Senate floor last month before the chamber voted to pass the bill 21-9, is ensuring pay equality between men and women in the health profession.

“Workers’ compensation presumptions currently exist in California for first responders and male-dominated professions, including law enforcement and fire, while nurses and health care workers—overwhelmingly women—lack these same protections,” said Cortese.

“The disparity in workers’ comp protections is sexist. Our heroic first responders and law enforcement workers deserve all the protections they have. Nurses are simply asking for those same protections,” said Cathy Kennedy, CNA president. “If we are caring for the same patients, exposed to the same illnesses, and experiencing on-the-job injuries at higher rates, why is our women-dominated profession not protected in the same way?”    

Dozens of organizations are opposed to the bill, including the California Chamber of Commerce, Dignity Health, and Memorialcare Health System. Opponents don’t want to pay for the compensation increases if they aren’t necessary. The California Hospital Association (CHA), another opposed organization, argues hospitals have robust protections in place to minimize work-related illnesses and injuries. 

The Association also says that while employees are required to prove an illness or injury is the result of the job, it’s fairly easy for them to do. The California Labor Code, CHA says, requires the Workers’ Compensation Act to be “liberally construed” in an employee’s favor, and thus these protections aren’t needed.

The bill now sits in the Assembly Rules Committee awaiting referral to the Insurance Committee. Cortese’s office says they expect this to happen within the next couple of weeks.