June 1, 2016 (SACRAMENTO) A bill by California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) to eliminate discriminatory practices in California’s workers’ compensation system that penalize women was approved on a bipartisan 56-16 vote by the California Assembly today.
Assembly Bill 1643 makes the impairment rating for injuries resulting from work-related breast cancer equivalent to the rating for prostate cancer. The bill also prevents doctors from taking pregnancy, menopause, osteoporosis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or psychiatric disability impairment caused by any of these conditions into account when making an apportionment decision for injuries.
In 2015, Gonzalez authored a nearly identical bill to end gender bias in California’s workers’ compensation system: AB 305. After passing the Legislature with bipartisan support, Gov. Brown vetoed AB 305, stating the legislation misunderstood the guidelines used to rate breast injuries. Proponents contend that the guidelines misunderstand women and are not as evidence based as the Governor claims.
“It’s a simple principle of fairness that being a woman should not be considered a pre-existing condition, least of all by government. Yet, this is the flawed standard working women face under the current workers’ compensation system,” said Gonzalez. “AB 1643 incorporates concerns raised last year by the Governor to provide a stronger bill to address the gender bias in workers’ comp and get California on track to true fairness.”
While current workers compensation law prohibits claims from being expressly denied because of an employee’s gender, age, religion or several other characteristics, a loophole in California’s workers compensation system has shortchanged female workers by citing so-called “pre-existing conditions” that exclusively or predominantly affect women. The result is that female workers are often compensated less for the same injury than a male worker.
Under current law, employees filing a workers’ compensation claim must be examined by a physician who is required to state the disability and its cause. The doctor’s report must apportion what approximate percentage of the disability was caused by the work activity versus other factors, which have included many of the so-called “pre-existing conditions” that AB 1643 would remove from consideration.
AB 1643 is coauthored by Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco), sponsored by the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association, and supported by a wide range of organizations including the California Women’s Law Center, Equal Rights Advocates, Voices for Progress, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty. It will next be considered in the Senate.