New California laws: Family leave, COVID protections, tax credits for undocumented
Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed several pro worker bills into law last week. | Jeff Chiu/AP

Among bills Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law last week are measures to strengthen family leave provisions for California workers, to require companies to tell their workers if they have been exposed to COVID-19, and to increase access to workers compensation benefits for workers exposed on the job.

When Senate Bill 1383, by State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, takes effect Jan. 1, workers for businesses with at least five employees will join their counterparts at enterprises with 50 or more workers in being able to access up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave to bond with a newborn, care for a seriously ill family member, take time off when relatives are called to military duty, or care for their own illnesses, without risking the loss of their jobs.

The measure expands on legislation passed in 2004 which provided the leave to workers at larger businesses, but not at smaller enterprises. Nearly 6 million more workers will now be able to access the family leave.

As he signed SB 1383, Newsom said the pandemic “has only further revealed the need for a family leave policy that truly serves families and workers, especially those who keep our economy running.”

Jackson emphasized that equitable family leave “is critical to ensuring equality for women in the workplace, a strong start for children, the health and safety of our older Californians, and ensuring fathers are full participants in their children’s lives.”

Two bills specifically address issues faced by employees when their work exposes them to COVID-19.

Assembly Bill 685, by Assemblymember Eloise Reyes, D-San Bernardino, requires employers not only to report COVID-19 cases to public health officials but also to report known cases to their workers or workers for subcontractors at the same site promptly or face a fine. Employers must also let those workers know about COVID-19-related sick leave, and how the worksite is to be kept clean.

The bill gives the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) clear authority to close a worksite because of a COVID-19 hazard.

Senate Bill 1159, by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, confirms into law the executive order Gov. Newsom issued last May that health care workers, firefighters, and police can qualify for workers compensation if they catch COVID-19 while at work.

Employees at a workplace with 100 or fewer workers can qualify for workers’ comp if they catch the virus and at least four employees have caught the virus there within a two-week period, while employees at larger companies are eligible if at least 4% of employees at the same location become ill within a two-week period.

Workers don’t have to prove they got COVID-19 on the job, but to deny coverage, employers must prove workers did not acquire the virus at work.

Protections for first responders and health care workers are permanent, but for others, they expire at the start of 2023.

Another new law makes more undocumented Californians eligible for the California Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides workers in low-paying jobs who file state tax returns a refund or a credit on the tax they owe.

AB 1876, introduced by Assembly Budget Committee Chair Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, with over 20 co-sponsors, expands a bill the governor signed earlier this year making undocumented people eligible for the state EITC if they have children under six years of age. The new legislation makes anyone who has an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) and income less than $30,000 annually, eligible for the credit.

Filers for the federal EITC must have a Social Security Number. California and Colorado are the only two states where immigrants using ITINs can access their state’s EITC.

As he signed the bill, Newsom highlighted the crucial role many undocumented immigrants are playing during the pandemic.

“Undocumented front line workers leave their families every day to keep our economy running,” he said, “but many are still struggling to make ends meet. Expanding the EITC will provide a critical boost to undocumented and mixed-status families across the state, stimulate the economy, and make us all stronger in the face of economic uncertainty. These Californians are taxpayers and should be treated like taxpayers, eligible for the same credits, and pay the same tax rates.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes for People’s World from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986, and currently participates as a volunteer.

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