The coronavirus outbreak has impacted every area of society. More than 1.5 million Americans have tested positive to COVID-19, and millions more have most likely had it without even knowing it. Tens of thousands of our citizens have died from the virus, and countless others have become seriously ill.
One area where a lot of people have questions because of COVID-19 is with workers’ compensation claims. For those whose work requires them to interact with other employees and/or the public, there is a risk of exposure to the coronavirus during the course of their job. And since the virus is highly infectious and we do not have a vaccine or proven treatment for it yet, testing positive would mean having to miss work for at least a few weeks, but more likely longer as it can take months in some cases to recover.
Many individuals who test positive for the coronavirus wonder if they are eligible to collect workers’ compensation benefits for the time they are required to miss from work. The best short answer we can give to that question is “maybe”.
If the coronavirus is caused by work exposure, it should be considered a workplace injury, and for some workers (such as those who work in healthcare), it could even be considered an occupational disease. That said, a worker who contracted the illness might have difficulty getting approved for benefits, because an employer may claim that they did not contract the virus at work.
This is an emerging area of workers’ compensation law, and as such, not everyone is on the same page with regards to how the law applies to COVID-19 cases. An employee is supposed to receive workers’ comp benefits if they suffer an illness or injury that arises out of their employment or occurs during the course of their employment. But how does an employee show that their exposure to the coronavirus happened at work?
Without a national contact tracing infrastructure in place, proving that an employee contracted COVID-19 from their job can be a major challenge, and approvals and denials are likely to vary widely depending on the circumstances of each case. For workers in some industries, such as first responders and other healthcare workers, there is likely to be more of a presumption that the illness is work-related. The same would probably hold true in workplaces where there are major outbreaks, such as nursing homes/assisted living centers and meat packing plants.
Some states have stepped in to provide additional guidance on COVID-19 related workers’ comp claims. For example, the governor of California recently enacted an executive order mandating that workers’ compensation “presumptively applies” when an employee worked at an employer’s place of business within 14 days of testing positive or being diagnosed with the coronavirus. An employer can dispute the presumption, but the burden of proof would be on the employer to show that the illness was not work-related.
As more and more businesses begin to reopen, contracting the coronavirus at work is likely to be an ongoing concern for many returning workers. Proper workplace safety measures will be all the more important to prevent outbreaks in newly opened facilities and establishments. These may include daily employee temperature checks, wearing masks and gloves, regular use of sanitizer, frequently disinfecting surfaces, 6-foot or more distances between workstations, the use of plexiglass to separate employees from customers, and other appropriate measures.
What Should I Do if I Contracted COVID-19 and I Believe it is Work-Related?
Even in workplaces where all of the proper safety protocols have been implemented, there will still be employees that contract the coronavirus. As soon you have been exposed to COVID-19 on the job or have been diagnosed with the condition, you should report your illness to your manager/supervisor. From there, the employer is required to report the illness to their insurance company.
In the meantime, follow your doctor’s orders, and speak with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer. Even during normal times, many workers’ comp claims are wrongly denied; and with coronavirus-related claims, there is even more uncertainty about whether or not your claim will be approved. By working with a skilled and knowledgeable attorney from the start, you have a much better chance of getting your benefits approved without having to go through denials, appeals, and all the red tape that is associated with that process.
Contact Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman for Help with Workers Compensation Claims
If you need any type of assistance with workers’ comp claims, Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman is here for you. We are taking all the precautions and following all of the appropriate safety protocols as our state and nation continues to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak, but we remain fully operational and ready to serve your needs.
For a free consultation with one of our attorneys, message us online or call our office today at 412-567-1232 or toll-free at 866-466-5789. We look forward to serving you!