Seyfarth Synopsis: New legislation effective 2017 will expand California workers’ compensation coverage by requiring coverage for certain high-level individuals unless they affirmatively opt out and waive coverage, thereby reversing the prior rule by which those individuals, to get coverage, had to opt in.

As a general rule, California employees must provide employees with workers’ compensation insurance coverage for work-related and industrial injuries and illnesses. Until now, the definition of “employee” has included paid corporate officers and directors, but has excluded corporate officers and directors who are the sole shareholders and has excluded working members of a partnership or limited liability company (“LLC”). These folks were not considered employees unless they “opted in” to workers’ compensation coverage.

Comes now AB 2883, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on August 26, 2016, which will amend Labor Code sections 3351 and 3352 to alter the coverage rules for workers’ compensation coverage. As of January 1, 2017, certain officers, directors, and owners of companies will be covered by workers’ compensation unless they affirmatively “opt out.” Specifically, all officers and members of boards of directors who work for a corporation for pay will be covered under workers’ compensation unless the individual (1) owns at least 15% of the issued and outstanding stock of the corporation and (2) executes a sworn waiver of rights under the Labor Code stating that he or she is qualified for the exemption. In addition, working members of a partnership or LLC receiving partnership or LLC wages will be covered employees unless they qualify as (1) a general partner of a partnership or a managing member of a LLC and (2) sign a waiver of the type just mentioned.

These amendments aim to keep employers from giving their employees sham titles or small ownership shares to avoid covering them under workers’ compensation.

AB 2883 also amends Labor Code Section 3352 to provide that if a signed waiver is effective upon the date of receipt and acceptance by the insurance carrier. Note, the provisions of AB 2883 apply to all in-force policies as of January 1, 2017, and unless a signed waiver is received and accepted by the insurance carrier, any individual who had been exempted from coverage under the workers’ compensation policy will need to be added to the coverage until a waiver is received and accepted by the insurer.

Sample Waiver Forms prepared by the State of California Department of Insurance appear at: http://www.insurance.ca.gov/0250-insurers/0300-insurers/0200-bulletins/bulletin-notices-commiss-opinion/upload/NoticeAB2883.pdf

By “opting out,” any working owner waives rights to three particular benefits:

(a) Potential lifetime medical coverage for the industrial injury. This coverage can be significant if the person leaves the company by retirement or otherwise.

(b) Rights to permanent disability, which can be significant for a serious injury with residuals.

(c) Temporary disability to cover any wage loss. (Companies, in the alternative, may consider short and long-term disability benefits for injuries that may last longer than the time provided by state disability coverage.)

Workplace Solution: With new laws being enacted continuously in California, we understand the struggle to keep up with developments. We have a team of experts focusing exclusively on workers’ compensation issues and they are here to help.