Can An Employee With Covid-19 Claim Workers’ Comp Benefits?
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers have put new safety measures in place for their employees. Many companies are maximizing the concept of working remotely. In addition to increasing the option for employees to telecommute, businesses are limiting nonessential travel and have altered their sick-leave policies to encourage those who become ill to stay at home. Increased safety practices cut down risks for contracting the virus at a time when questions still arise concerning COVID 19 workers comp benefits.
A Safety Framework
Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have developed COVID-19 infection control practices for employers. The information includes guidelines for hazard assessment, administrative controls, personal protective equipment or PPE, employee training and safe work practices. The CDC and OSHA intend for their guidelines to make worksites safer. However, there is no guarantee that employees will not contract COVID-19.
Essential Workers During The Pandemic
Essential businesses and services include grocers, pharmacies, food banks, hospitals and manufacturers. Many have remained open throughout the pandemic. Essential workers include doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers; grocery store employees; firefighters and law enforcement officers; mass transit operators and those with similar occupations who risk exposure to the virus on a daily basis.
Who Carries Workers’ Compensation Insurance
Requirements vary from state to state. In some states, a company with one employee must carry workers’ compensation insurance while in others, a business does not have to carry WC unless it employs three or more full-time or part-time workers. Benefits also vary depending on the severity of the work-related injury or illness, whether it is a disability or an impairment and whether the patient can or cannot return to work.
Workers’ Comp And Coverage For Employees With COVID-19
In general, workers’ compensation coverage does not extend to the usual community-spread illnesses such as flu or the common cold. This is because, it is difficult, if not impossible, to link these diseases to the workplace. Workers’ compensation benefits are available for some illnesses or conditions that develop over time, such as respiratory illnesses, if evidence shows that they are clearly work-related. Employer response to the COVID-19 pandemic is unique because the virus has caused ordinary working conditions to become dangerous for personnel. So, are workers’ comp benefits available to those with COVID-19? The answer is, maybe.
Actions States Are Taking
Although there are differences in the policies, a number of states are making workers’ compensation benefits available to employees who have contracted COVID-19. As of August 2020, 14 states enacted legislation to extend such coverage, designating the coronavirus as a work-related illness:
- Six states enacted legislation to cover various types of workers
- Alaska, Utah, Minnesota and Wisconsin cover first responders and healthcare workers
- Illinois covers all essential workers
- Wyoming covers all workers
A few states, including Arkansas, have used an executive order to implement COVID-19 coverage. The Arkansas EO makes COVID-19 “an occupational disease”. This allows someone with the virus to file a regular claim for benefits. In many states, legislation is still pending. Pending legislation in Ohio covers all essential workers, first responders, healthcare workers, corrections officers, grocery store and food processing workers. In North Carolina, it covers first responders, all essential workers and corrections officers.
Most states are very specific about the types of COVID-19 patients workers’ compensation will cover. For example, in addition to first responders, healthcare workers and corrections officers, Vermont legislation covers childcare providers, long-term care staff, pharmacy and grocery store employees, and “other workers with high risk of exposure.”
COVID-19 And Workers’ Comp As An Industry
COVID-19 is the latest of several infectious diseases that have struck worldwide within the past couple of decades. It joins the viruses SARS, H1N1, Zika and Ebola. The National Council on Compensation Insurance, or NCCI, believes that this new pandemic will affect two particular areas of the workers’ compensation system, compensability and economic impact, which, in turn, will affect potential claimants.
The questions states are grappling with include concerns as to how time away from work while a patient is recovering from the virus is categorized. Should this be considered sick time or temporary disability? Washington is one state that has made its decision. The Washington Department of Labor and Industries has changed its policy to provide coverage for healthcare workers and first responders. Workers’ compensation in that state will now cover payment for medical testing, medical treatment and indemnity payments for those who cannot work because they are either ill or under quarantine.
Due to the many virus-related mandates issued and the resulting closures, the travel and hospitality industries are among those that have taken a hard hit. The prospect of a second wave of COVID-19 infections fuels the reactions of a nervous public. Depending on the way consumer attitudes evolve, employment levels could suffer along with the economy in general.
Informed and Ready to Act
It is not an easy task to stay abreast of the latest news in workers’ compensation benefits for employees diagnosed with COVID-19. Some cases are very mild while others require hospitalization. In addition, many people risk exposure to others who have contracted the virus and must self-quarantine. Changes in insurance coverage seem to occur every day. With some states issuing “emergency rule” as established by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission and geared toward essential workers, to legislation still listed as pending in several states. In this atmosphere of uncertainty, concerned employees often seek guidance from attorneys experienced with filing and defending workers’ compensation claims.
Work With An Experienced Local Lawyer
Managing the coronavirus is new territory for everyone from employers and employees to their workers’ compensation insurers. If you are dealing with COVID-19 and are interested in submitting a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, you can rely on assistance from a local attorney who has the latest information on the availability of WC coverage in your area. Submit a request online or call us today at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an experienced lawyer in your area!