The area of workers’ compensation law in California is constantly changing over time. In most years, updates or minor changes are made to existing California laws that impact both employers and employees in this state. Whether you are a California employer or an employee—it is in your best interest to stay up to date with new workers’ compensation laws and any changes made to existing laws.

COVID-Related Updates

Since the official COVID state of emergency ended in California in February of 2023, some changes were made this year regarding handling COVID-related workers’ compensation claims. Currently, the COVID presumptions of industrial causation (that cases under certain circumstances are presumed to be work-related) that were enacted as AB 1751 remain in effect—but these presumptions are expected to expire as of January 1, 2024.

Qualified Medical Evaluator Telehealth Regulations

In February of 2023, the California Division of Workers’ Compensation adopted the Qualified Medical Evaluator (QME) telehealth regulations. Adopting these regulations allows remote telehealth QME evaluations to continue to proceed in workers’ compensation cases, as long as certain requirements are met and an in-person evaluation is not necessary.

These regulations also allow QMEs a longer period in which to schedule appointments. Now, QMES must schedule these appointments within 90 days of the appointment request. Additionally, if the injured worker waives this requirement, the QME is permitted up to 120 days to schedule the appointment.

Workers’ Compensation Disability Payments – AB 489

In California, employers are currently permitted to provide disability indemnity payments to their employees with a prepaid card account, but this arrangement was for a limited time which was set to expire on January 1, 2024. On July 13, 2023, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 489 into law, which extended this approach through January 1, 2025. 

If you are an injured worker in California who is currently receiving disability payments with a prepaid card account, you can continue to receive payments through this method until at least January 1, 2025.

Workers’ Compensation Insurance Requirements – SB 216

As of July 2023, workers’ compensation insurance is now mandatory under certain circumstances for licensed contractors in California—even if they do not have any employees. This requirement pertains to licensed contractors working with concrete, air conditioning, heating, ventilation, tree service, and asbestos abatement. Even if you do not have any employees, as a contractor working in one of these industries, you must obtain workers’ compensation insurance immediately to be in compliance with California law. This bill, SB 216, is planned to be implemented in stages, and it is anticipated that this workers’ compensation insurance requirement will be extended to all licensed contractors by 2026.

Workers’ Compensation Special Death Benefit – AB 621

Under current state law, no benefits except for reasonable burial expenses (not to exceed $1,000) may be awarded due to the death of any employee who is an active member of the Public Employee’s Retirement System, unless the death benefits that are available under the Public Employee’s Retirement Law are less than the amount of workers’ compensation death benefits. In this case, the surviving spouse and children may also receive the difference between the two benefits unless a law exempts certain members from this limitation.

Governor Newsom signed AB 621 into law in October 2023, which expands the exemption to include peace officers, state safety members, and firefighters for the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, who are members of Bargaining Unit 8.

Workers’ Compensation Insurance (General) – AB 336

On October 7, 2023, Governor Newsom signed AB 336 into law. AB 336 amends Section 12303 of the Business and Professions Code, Relating to Contractors. With this new law, applicants for a license must certify on their renewal form the three classifications that have the highest payroll on their workers’ compensation policy. It also applies for the renewal of licenses. This new requirement goes into effect on July 1, 2024.

Human Services – An Act Relating to the Budget Act of 2023 – SB 138

Governor Newsom signed SB 138 into law on September 13, 2023. SB 138 authorizes Business Enterprises Programs for Blind Vendors whom the Department of Rehabilitation licenses to operate a facility with workers’ compensation insurance provided by the Business Enterprises Program’s group policy. After Governor Newsom signed this bill, the law went into effect immediately.

Workplace Violence Prevention Program – SB 553

As of July 1, 2024, California law will require employers to adopt workplace violence prevention plans. Employers can implement the strategies as part of an existing injury and illness prevention program or add them as a separate document. Under the new requirements outlined in SB 553, employers have specific requirements to stay in compliance, which include:

  • Providing training to all employees;
  • Recording any incidents or threats that occur in a violent incident log;
  • Maintaining records in connection with a workplace violence prevention plan.

Minimum Wage Increase for All California Employees for 2024

Governor Newsom certified a statewide minimum wage increase on July 31, 2023. All California state employers must comply with the new statewide minimum wage as of January 1, 2024. On this date, the wage rate will be increased to at least $16 per hour for all employees.

This is an increase from the 2023 minimum wage rate of $15.50.  However, keep in mind that there are some cities and counties in California that have a higher local minimum wage. The increase will not affect you if you work in a city or county with a higher local minimum wage. Your employer should be in compliance with the minimum wage requirements set in place by your city or country.

The minimum wage increase will also have an impact on the minimum salary that an employee has to earn to meet one portion of the overtime exemption test. Some employees are exempt from payment of overtime for hours worked. In order to meet this requirement of exemption, an employee must earn no less than double the state’s minimum wage for full-time work. 

This means that starting on January 1, 2024, employees in California who earn an annual salary of $66,560 or more will meet the exemption requirements for overtime. Additionally, employers must display the wage rate on the employee’s pay stub, and also make sure that they are paid at least the minimum wage of $16 per hour, even when employees are paid at piece rate.

Minimum Wage Increases for Specific Industries for 2024

On June 1, 2024, SB 525 will go into effect. This bill implements a multi-tiered statewide minimum wage for health care workers who are employed by health care facilities covered by the bill. The “covered” health care facilities include most facilities in California, except for ones that are owned, operated, or controlled by the California Department of State Hospitals, tribal clinics that are exempt from licensure, and also outpatient settings that are operated by federally recognized tribes. The covered health care employees under this bill include physicians, nurses, clerical workers, and janitors.

Another minimum wage update bill that was recently passed this year was for employees working in the fast-food industry. This bill was AB 1228, which repeals the FAST Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act. One of the major provisions of AB 1228 is that all California fast food restaurant employees will receive a minimum wage increase to $20 per hour as of April 1, 2024. 

Under AB 1228, the minimum wage for fast food restaurant employees will continue to increase each year through 2029. Additionally, AB 1128 also established the Fast Food Council, which will begin to make recommendations regarding some other work place conditions in 2024.

Hiring a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer in California

After suffering a work-related injury or illness, some people are unsure whether it is in their best interest to hire an attorney to represent them in pursuing a claim for compensation. Since there are always new laws that have an impact on this unique area of the law, it is generally going to be beneficial to your case to hire a work comp lawyer to handle your case for you.

With an experienced California workers’ compensation lawyer on your side, you will not have to navigate complicated legal matters on your own. If your case ends up going to trial, your attorney will already be familiar with the issues involved in your case and be able to litigate your workers’ compensation case on your behalf.

Attorney Matthew A. Schondel of Kneisler & Schondel has decades of experience helping people who have been hurt at work fight for their legal rights. The entire legal team at Kneisler & Schondel is dedicated to getting justice for their clients and helping them obtain the workers’ compensation benefits that they deserve for their injuries, so that they can get back on their feet.

If you have recently been injured at work, we can help you get started with filing your claim for workers’ compensation benefits and see your case through to resolution. Contact our office today to schedule a free consultation.