The COVID-19 pandemic has effectively changed the world. As everyone continues to adjust to the new normal, which includes stay-at-home orders, masks, social distancing, health care facility lockdowns, and “non-essential businesses opening”, the question of workers’ compensation has arisen. While everyone works together to flatten the curve, the way the world does business has changed and the question regarding the availability of workers’ compensation benefits for those infected with the novel coronavirus while on the job needs to be answered.
Workers’ compensation is only one of the many ways businesses have been affected. In addition, claims processing is operating under new guidelines and questions abound for those exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace and subsequently infected. If you have a tested positive for COVID-19 and were infected on the job, are you eligible for workers’ compensation benefits in the same way you would be if you suffered another type of injury or infection on the job? Can you get benefits for medical bills and lost wages?
Well, the answer is yes, maybe. If infected you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, but you may not. Healthcare workers and first responders who treated a COVID-19 patient can easily ‘prove’ they were infected on the job, while others will likely find making a workers’ compensation claim quite a challenge. Every case is different, and your eligibility for worker’s compensation benefits will be decided by your unique situation, the nature of your job, and the rules for your state, as well as any provisional changes brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic.
If you believe you were exposed to COVID-19 at work, you should immediately inform your employer and get tested. If you test positive for COVID-19, take these steps to file a workers’ compensation claim:
• Inform your employer, including the circumstance you believe left your coronavirus infection. You must report the infection within 30 days of your exposure or the manifestation of the symptoms. There may be extensions available due to the infection, testing, and diagnoses timelines of COVID-19.
• Should your employer or workers’ compensation administration refuse your claim, you can submit a written petition of benefits to the Florida Office of Judges Compensation Claims within two years of the incident.
If you are not considered a state frontline employee, and do not have presumption of compensability protection, you will likely need a physician’s statement submitted. The physician’s report should document facts related to your exposure to coronavirus, your diagnosis, and a statement which links your diagnosis to your employment.
OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has stated that COVID-19 is a recordable illness or injury which means employers must report infected employees. With that declaration, OSHA also implemented provisional safety standards for businesses where employees are exposed to a higher risk of contracting the novel coronavirus. COVID-19, then, is unlike colds and flu, which are known as ordinary diseases of life, and thus excluded from workers’ compensation claims. That said, workers’ compensation, generally, covers employees who contract occupational diseases resulting from their jobs, which may include COVID-19 for healthcare professionals, first responders and other frontline workers.
While workers’ compensation eligibility for occupational diseases differs in each state, nearly every instance requires workers to: Demonstrate the nature of their position resulting in the infection
• Prove their job presented an elevated risk of exposure compared to the general population
• Prove they contracted the infection through their job The widespread exposure of the coronavirus makes meeting those requirements challenging at best. To make a workers’ compensation claim, medical evidence will probably be needed to validate exposure in the workplace in those states which are permitting COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims to be filed. Given stay-at-home orders for many, those who must work with the public on a daily basis may be able to prove they were infected on the job and may then be eligible for compensation benefits for COVID-19. In Florida, special rules have been applied for coronavirus workers’ compensation claims. The new rules apply only to state frontline employees, not private sector workers, though they may provide instruction for the private sector at some point in the future.
For more information, contact Brandon Stein, STEINLAW, 17971 Biscayne Blvd., Suite 216, Aventura 33160; Call 877.STEINLAW or email@example.com