Corona-Virus Covid19 and Labor Code Section 4850
March 20, 2020 – It is not a matter of if, but when, a safety officer will come into contact with the coronavirus in performance of their duties. The natural question is how that safety officer will be treated, particularly if that safety officer is quarantined. If the employer requires a safety officer to remain off duty in quarantine after an exposure to Covid 19, the safety officer should be entitled to Labor Code 4850 benefits while on the leave. The fundamental point here is that the quarantine presupposes exposure to the virus while at work. If a safety officer, while in performance of his or her duties, is exposed to the virus, that safety officer should be entitled to Labor Code section 4850 benefits.
L.C. 4850 provides: “Whenever any person listed in subdivision (b), who is employed on a regular, full-time basis, and is disabled, whether temporarily or permanently, by injury or illness arising out of and in the course of his or her duties, he or she shall become entitled, regardless of his or her period of service with the city, county, or district, to a leave of absence while so disabled without loss of salary in lieu of temporary disability payments.”
In addition, the employer should further be responsible for lodging the safety officer during the quarantine. Again, because of workplace exposure, there should be no cost or burden placed on the exposed safety officer. That burden is placed squarely on the employer.
It is easy to foresee that employers will try to force a safety officer to burn their sick time while the Work Comp case is put under investigation. The problem with this approach is that the member may not contract the virus, and therefore the employer would argue there is no “injury or illness” to trigger the payment of 4850 benefits. In that event, the safety officer would then bear the burden because of the employer’s actions ordering them off duty. In order to avoid depriving this safety officer of the benefits of employment without due process, the employer’s only other option is to place that safety officer on Administrative Leave with Pay. It would be reasonably foreseeable to anticipate legal action against the employer for placing the burden solely on the safety member’s shoulders. As it is the employer’s action, the employer must carry the burden.