Assembly Passes Workers' Compensation Measure

The Assembly passed AB 1155 by Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville) relative to workers’ compensation by a 44-22 party-line vote.

AB 1155 would prohibit discrimination on the basis of specified protected classes for purposes of apportioning permanent disability.  Current law allows doctors to assess how much of an injury is the result of work and how much is from other causes, such as a previous injury.

In the floor debate, Assemblyman Alejo cited a case in which a disability award for a San Diego worker was cut in half because he was black, and those who reviewed his case said blacks were more susceptible to hypertension.  Alejo noted that protections against discrimination are common in state law.  He said the bill would make it clear that any cut to disability awards would have to be justified by a pre-existing medical condition, not just "risk factors" or the likelihood of a condition, such as a greater genetic predisposition to certain diseases based on race or the fact that women tend to be more susceptible to osteoporosis than men.

Republicans opposed the bill.  Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Fullerton, warned that age is a legitimate concern when it comes to assessing what contributed to a disabling on-the-job injury.  Including it in the bill could put California back on a path to high workers' compensation costs that would hurt businesses.

Alejo countered that in at least one case in San Francisco, a female worker who suffered a neck injury and carpal tunnel had her disability award reduced on the basis of her age.

Opponents argued in committee that there are safeguards already built into the system to prevent abuses and to flag discriminatory decisions, including at least one case cited by the authors.  They warned the bill would make lawsuits more likely.

Similar bills were approved by the Legislature in 2008 and 2010, but they were all vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.