Nurses Applaud Introduction of Emergency COVID-19 Bill to Protect RNs, First Responders, and Health Care Workers
AB 664 to provide presumptive eligibility for workers’ compensation for RNs, first responders, and other health care workers exposed to COVID-19
In response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, California Nurses Association (CNA) is pleased to cosponsor Assembly Bill 664 (Cooper) to protect California’s nurses, firefighters, police officers, and health care workers by providing presumptive eligibility for workers’ compensation during a state of emergency.
California is one of many states that have laws that grant some public safety employees, such as police officers and firefighters, “presumptive eligibility” for workers’ compensation. However, nurses have no such protections at all, even though, by the nature of their work, they suffer some of the highest risks of injury and illness of any profession. This bill would correct this unfair treatment.
Cosponsored by CNA and introduced by assemblymembers Jim Cooper, Lorena Gonzalez, and Rob Bonta, AB 664 will ensure that nurses, first responders, and health care workers have presumptive eligibility for workers’ compensation if they fall ill to COVID-19 or any other communicable disease when a state or local government state of emergency is declared.
“Every day our first responders and health care workers are on the front lines fighting to keep us safe and healthy,” said Assemblymember Jim Cooper. “These workers not only show up to protect us, but they are asked to go toward the risk while most of us are asked to stay away from it. They are heroes and should have the peace of mind that they will be taken care of if they fall ill while providing their vital services to the public.”
“Presumptive eligibility” for workers’ compensation, means that if the employee sustains certain injuries or becomes infected with certain diseases like COVID-19, the injury or illness is presumed to be job related and makes him or her automatically eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
“Nurses across the country do not have the protections they need during this pandemic, which is why it’s so critical that they are automatically eligible for workers’ comp for COVID-19,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, executive director of CNA/National Nurses United. “We have heard reports from nurses who have been told they contracted their COVID-19 infection in the community and that they should use their sick or vacation time. That is outrageous, especially given the highly contagious nature of the virus that causes COVID-19. Nurses on the front lines of this crisis deserve presumptive eligibility now.”
As of April 17, 2020, there are 3,155 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases of nurses and health care workers, and four fatalities among nurses in California.
“These deaths could have been prevented if only nurses had been provided with the proper equipment to protect themselves,” said Zenei Cortez, RN and a president of CNA/NNU. “It is time to change the workers’ compensation system to benefit nurses rather than big employers. We want to take care of the sick, but when we ourselves fall ill because of our daily sacrifices, we should all be provided with the security written into AB 664. Protect nurses now so we can keep taking care of your friends and families during this pandemic.”
Under AB 664, workplace protections would include full hospital, surgical, medical treatment, disability indemnity, and death benefits to nurses and other health care workers, police officers, and firefighters who contract COVID-19 or any communicable disease. In addition, they are also entitled to reimbursement of out-of-pocket costs for the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE), and medical and living expenses required while performing their essential duties. An employee eligible for workers’ compensation should not be required to use accrued vacation leave, personal leave, compensatory leave, sick leave, or any other leave, other than applicable benefits made available in order to be reimbursed.
AB 664 is sponsored by the Los Angeles Police Protective League, Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, California Professional Firefighters, and the California Nurses Association.