Pittsburgh Attorney Kelly Enders Discusses Legal Concerns with COVID-19 Reopenings

Although all counties in Pennsylvania are currently under the green stage of reopening phases, Governor Wolf, on July 15, 2020, imposed additional restrictions on bars and restaurants and has requested that businesses require workers to telework unless it is impossible to do so. For those that cannot telework, returning to the workplace may create an increased risk of being exposed to COVID-19.

If you are someone who has returned to the workplace you may have questions about what might happened if you need to take time away from work due to COVID-19. Are there benefits available if you have to miss time from work because you contracted COVID-19? If you believe you contracted COVID-19 at your workplace, can you make a claim for workers’ compensation? Will you be eligible for any benefits if you miss time from work to care for a relative who has COVID-19 or because you need to stay home to look after a minor child whose school or daycare is closed? These are all important concerns for individuals as they return to work.

There are certain programs in place already to help workers who have to miss time from work due to COVID-19.  These include:

Family First Coronavirus Response Act

Under the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), most employers with 500 or less employees must provide 80 hours of paid sick leave for employees sick or quarantined due to COVID-19. The FFCRA provides:

  • full pay for sick or quarantined employees for 80 hours;
  • 2/3 pay if caring for another;
  • paid sick leave is capped at $511.00 per day, and $5,110.00 total per employee;
  • sick leave caps at $200.00 per day and a total of $2000.00 per employee when leave is taken to care for a family member in quarantine or to care for child while that child’s school or daycare is closed.

The benefits will only be payable if the employee:

  • is subject to a government quarantine or isolation order;
  • has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine;
  • has symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis;
  • is caring for a relative who is quarantined or in isolation; or
  • is unable to work because his/her child’s school or childcare is closed or unavailable due to COVID-19.

An additional 10 weeks of paid family medical leave at two thirds (2/3) of the employee’s regular pay can be available if the employee cannot work because his/her minor child’s school or childcare is closed due to COVID-19 precautions.  To be eligible for this benefit, the employee must have been on the payroll for 30 days.  An employee who was laid off after March 1, 2020 but returns to work is eligible for the emergency family leave under the FFCRA without having to again meet the 30 days requirement after returning to work. The benefit is paid at 66% of the regular earnings but is capped at $200.00/day and $12,000.00 total.

Sick leave benefits are available until December 31, 2020.

 Unemployment Benefits

If you use your 80 hours in sick leave and do not qualify for the emergency family leave then you can apply for assistance under coronavirus unemployment laws.  Under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA), employees will receive a minimum benefit that is equal to one half (1/2) of their state’s averaged weekly unemployment benefits.  They will also be able to receive an additional six hundred dollars ($600.00) a week until the week ending July 26, 2020 through the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) part of the law.  The U.S. Congress is currently working another package that will replace the PUC part of the law.

Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation

Employees who contracted COVID-19 on the job would also have the ability to file a Workers’ Compensation claim because the workers’ compensation system provides medical treatment and wage loss benefits for employees who suffer a work-related injury or disease.  A work-related COVID-19 injury could be regarded as a traumatic injury or as an occupational disease under Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Act.

There are steps that a worker will need to take in order to seek workers’ compensation benefits if exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace.  The employee must notify the employer to file an injury claim and that will require the employee to provide medical evidence that they were exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace.  Potentially employees who contract COVID-19 in the workplace could file an occupational disease claim which would require the employee to establish that COVID-19 is occurring more in his/her occupation and industry than in the general population.

The Pennsylvania Legislature has passed laws which provide automatic entitlement to benefits for law enforcement officers diagnosed and quarantined due to COVID-19 regardless of the source of the COVID-19 infection.  The Legislature has also considered creating a presumption of a work-related hazard for employees in life sustaining businesses and occupations such those in the medical field, restaurant industry and retail fields.  To date this legislation has not been enacted into law.

Talk to a Knowledgeable Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Attorney Today

Kelly Enders is an attorney at Caroselli Beachler & Coleman, and she is available to discuss and assist employees who are faced with workplace injuries due to COVID-19.  An initial consultation can occur over the phone or by a video-call. We have decades of experience handling routine and complex work-related injury and disease cases. Contact one of our experienced Pittsburgh Workers’ Compensation attorneys at (866) 466-5789 or through our website contact form.

Can You Collect Workers’ Comp if You Contract COVID-19 as a Hospital Worker?

People seek treatment at hospitals when they are in need of medical care for an injury, illness, or other serious condition. As an employee, you have the right to expect that a hospital is a safe work environment. But, what about in the middle of a global pandemic?

In the best of times, hospitals can be breeding grounds for germs and infections. The Centers for Disease Control reports that roughly 1 in 648,000 people in the U.S. develop infections in hospitals annually, leading to about 75,000 deaths.

But what if you work for a hospital and contract the virus? If you have contracted COVID-19 at a hospital, you may be able to collect workers’ comp, and our experienced Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorneys will be happy to review your case.

COVID-19 in Hospitals

The coronavirus was declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Jan. 30 and named “COVID-19” on Feb. 11. Not everyone trusts this information, but it’s there for those who do.

According to the CDC, there are higher rates of hospitalization with COVID-19 among older adults. Unfortunately, the CDC also reports that the virus can be transmitted to others while a person is presymptomatic or asymptomatic, meaning they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 but don’t feel sick.

Lawsuits by Hospital Employees Who Contract COVID-19

If you are a hospital employee that has tested positive for COVID-19, you likely won’t have a personal injury claim. But, you do have the right to claim benefits under workers’ compensation. Even so, you may face an uphill battle collecting the benefits you need and deserve.

Some employers might allege that you were just as likely to contract the virus in your ordinary activities as you were at work. This will be a tough argument for many to win if recommended safety protocols weren’t followed, or healthcare staff didn’t have access to the right kind of PPE to keep them and others free from harm.

Workplace injuries are not uncommon in a healthcare setting, but COVID-19 has made going to work each day particularly hazardous. If you’ve been infected with this virus, our knowledgeable workers’ compensation attorneys would be happy to explain your rights under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.

Speak with an Experienced Pittsburgh Injury Lawyer

If you or someone you love has contracted COVID-19 in a hospital, you may have the right to pursue legal action against the facility. While some patients recover quickly from this virus, there is still much we don’t know about it, and it can be deadly for many who are infected.

At Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, we have been protecting the rights of the injured and their loved ones for over two decades. Whether you contracted this virus as a patient or an employee, our seasoned accident attorneys can protect your rights and help you get the compensation you deserve.

Contact our office today at 412-391-9860, toll-free at 866-466-5789, or message us online to schedule a free case evaluation. Our office is following social distancing guidelines but remains available to provide the high level of service our clients expect.

Can I Receive Workers’ Compensation Benefits if I Test Positive for COVID-19?

The coronavirus has impacted every area of society. More than 1.5 million Americans have tested positive to COVID-19. Even though many of those tests have been shown to be false information, many citizens have died from the virus, and many others have become ill.

One area where a lot of people have questions with COVID-19 is regarding 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 might be a 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?

If 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 412-391-9860 or toll-free at 866-466-5789. We look forward to serving you!