Late last year, a storm of media coverage documenting the struggle for treatment endured by victims of the San Bernardino terrorist attack of 2015 incited widespread outrage and frustration across the country. As all eyes briefly turned on a workers’ comp authorization and review system that isn’t working, that frustration led to action. California state Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes, whose district includes parts of San Bernardino County, authored Assembly Bill 44 in direct response to this coverage. Her bill hopes to expedite advocacy and treatment for workers injured in incidents of workplace violence or terrorism. Last month, it passed the Assembly unanimously. Today, we take a closer look at the new legislation.
AB 44 adds a new portion to § 4600 of the California Labor Code. The addition, Section 4600.05, reads as follows:
“(a) All employers, as defined in Section 3300, shall provide immediately accessible advocacy services for employees injured in the course of employment by an act of domestic terrorism, as defined in Section 2331 of Title 18 of the United States Code, to assist injured employees in obtaining medical treatment and to assist providers of medical services in seeking authorization and payment of medical treatment. These advocacy services may be provided by the employer, the employer’s insurer, or the employer’s claims administrator.
(b) This section shall apply only when the Governor has declared a state of emergency pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 8558 of the Government Code in connection with the act of domestic terrorism.
(c) Nothing in this section is intended to alter the conditions for compensability of an injury, as defined in Section 3600.
(d) The administrative director shall adopt regulations to implement this section.”
Reyes initially intended her bill to apply retroactively to victims of the San Bernardino terrorist attack, as well as any other California worker injured in a terrorist attack or act of workplace violence prior to January 1, 2018. In addition, Reyes’ proposed bill would have exempted such victims from the utilization review and independent medical review processes.
The amended version of AB 44 does not allow for those provisions, but it does provide for “immediately accessible advocacy services,” which would “assist injured employees in obtaining medical treatment” and help providers “in seeking authorization and payment of medical treatment." Its full effect won’t be known until the law is put into practice, but we’ll consider this a solid first step towards increasing the speed and efficiency of treatment following workplace violence or terrorist attacks.
The bill is currently in the hands of the senate, where it was referred to the committee on Labor and Industrial Relations. The committee postponed a scheduled hearing on the first of the month – we’ll be back with more information as AB 44 continues its journey to the governor’s desk.