Taking Care of Workers; What About Businesses?

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Governor Gavin Newsom announced additional worker protection proposals on Friday to confront the spread of the coronavirus. While these additional protections along with pending legislation the returning legislature will consider are aimed at offering benefits for workers, not enough has been offered for employers who struggle to keep their businesses open. 

Among Newsom’s new initiatives are offering help to essential workers who are considered vulnerable because of the nature of their work or the circumstances in which they work. The governor highlighted California farmworkers who toil in the fields and often return to substandard living conditions. Newsom offered to improve housing for farmworkers and said the state would provide hotel rooms for those farmworkers recovering from Covid-19. 

In addition, the governor’s worker protections plan cast a wider net including other essential workers including truck drivers and grocery employees, offering quicker investigations and enforcement of companies that ignore state health guidelines. He also issued a new handbook to employers on how to set up their places of work properly to protect workers against the spread of the virus. 

The governor is planning to work with the legislature on a number of bills that are proposed to shield workers in this extraordinary time. Most notable is an extension into law of the governor’s executive order on workers’ compensation. Under the order, any worker who contracts the Covid-19 virus is assumed to get it while on the job. Along with easing the path to workers compensation rewards for more workers dealing with Covid-19, the proposals would pile another financial strain on employers. 

Other bills to benefit workers include additional sick days for food workers during the coronavirus crisis, labor law changes to benefit at home workers, and job protection for parents that need to take up to 12 weeks leave if their child’s school or daycare has been closed during the pandemic. 

Businesses have to cover costs and loss of production due to some of the proposed requirements while at the same time each business tries to keep its head above water in a red economic sea. Can the legislature offer a hand to businesses to equalize all government wants to do for workers? 

California Business Roundtable president Rob Lapsley, in responding to the governor’s announcement, said in a statement, “there should be liability relief for employers who adhere and exceed the guidelines in the new Employer Safety Handbook. Moreover, strategic enforcement of labor laws must include clear provisions so that corrective actions can be made before punitive actions are imposed.” 

It would be extremely important for businesses if the legislature creates a “right to cure” law so businesses can take care of minor errors before being overwhelmed by legal action. If such an action is taken, employers will know that legislators’ concern is not just for workers. 

An indication of legislative concern over business might be measured on the webpages of the California Chamber of Commerce. Famous for its Job Killers page, which list the bills the Chamber believes will stifle business and reduce jobs, less well known is the CalChambers’ Job Creators page. This page supports bills in the legislature that the Chamber feels will stimulate the economy and improve the job climate.

In 2019, 31 Job Killers were cited, compared to just 9 on the Job Creator List. In 2020, there are 15 Job Killer bills listed but there is no 2020 page for Job Creators. An oversight from website maintenance or no bills to report on? 

Regardless, it’s time the legislature considered the business side of the business-labor equation to promote a successful economic recovery.

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