COVID-19 and Workers’ Compensation FAQ

Wondering if you are covered by workers’ compensation insurance if you are exposed to the coronavirus at work and contract COVID-19? Wondering if your insurance will cover your employees if they catch COVID-19 at work?

covid 19

Read on for the answers to the most frequently asked questions about workers’ compensation insurance and COVID-19, from the office of a busy Philadelphia workers’ compensation lawyer.

Q: Does workers’ comp cover COVID-19?

Probably, for most workers, and definitely for high-risk occupations like healthcare. In the last few months, many states have passed legislation providing for and determining the limits of workers’ compensation coverage for COVID-19, so be sure to check the law in your state.

Because we are only a few months into the pandemic, the treatment of COVID-19 under workers’ compensation law is emerging just now. It seems that COVID-19 will be treated as an occupational disease, like carpal tunnel syndrome. However, insurers may deny claims if the applicable state statute excludes “ordinary diseases of life” such as the common cold or flu. It will be up to workers’ compensation judges to determine whether the coronavirus is an “ordinary disease of life.”

Employees who work closely with others and cannot socially distance, such as doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, orderlies, medical assistants, medical transport personnel, dentists, chiropractors, physical therapists, and all other healthcare workers will be covered, as it will be more likely than not that they are exposed to the coronavirus by symptomatic or asymptomatic patients or clients.

First responders such as police, firefighters, first aid, and emergency medical technicians will be covered as well under this theory. Anyone else who cannot socially distance, such as cash register operators, restaurant wait staff, daycare workers, and hairdressers will also be covered. 

It is likely that insurance companies will require employers to enact and enforce a mask-wearing mandate, sanitizing protocols, and exposure self-reporting, to remain covered by workers’ compensation insurance. If an employer refuses to implement precautions in the workplace, that employer may risk exposure to liability for workplace infection.

Q: If I catch COVID-19 at work, what workers’ compensation benefits can I get?

 You will be entitled to compensation for lost wages if you miss more than seven days of work. You will also be entitled to compensation for medical treatment, including hospital, medications, and therapies required to regain your health. If you suffer lingering ill effects after recovering from COVID-19, and it affects your ability to work or perform everyday tasks, you may be entitled to temporary or permanent partial or total disability payments. 

Because we are in the early months of the pandemic, the permanent effects of COVID-19 are unknown, but those who have recovered from the illness report still suffering:

  • Unexplained headaches
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of mental focus
  • Shortness of breath
  • Joint pain

Medical practitioners anticipate that those with severe cases of COVID-19 will likely suffer permanent lung, heart, and brain damage. Even those with mild cases of COVID-19 may be at more risk of suffering a stroke, heart attack, or severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Q: I am an independent contractor who caught COVID-19 on the job. Am I covered by workers’ compensation insurance?

Maybe. Unfortunately, it is common for employers to misclassify employees as independent contractors in order to avoid paying payroll taxes and for workers’ compensation insurance coverage.

Even if you get 1099 rather than a W2, you may be considered an “employee” under your state workers’ compensation statute. While the law varies by state, you may be considered an employee if:

  • Your employer dictates when you do your job;
  • Your employer dictates how you do your job;
  • Your employer dictates where you do your job;
  • Your employer supervises your work;
  • Your employer has the right to fire you;
  • Your employer owns the machinery or tools you use;
  • You are paid at regular intervals, rather than by task completed;
  • Your work is the same as the employer’s work.

If you caught COVID-19 at work and believe you’ve been misclassified as an independent contractor, contact a local workers’ compensation attorney for help with your claim.

Q: Can my employees sue me if they catch COVID-19 at work?

Perhaps. Under federal law, an employer must provide a safe and healthful workplace. If you are not taking precautions to protect your employees from the transmission of the coronavirus, that may expose you to liability for infection.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has posted Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 on their website. You can find out steps you can take to help protect their workforce. OSHA has divided workplaces into four risk zones according to the likelihood of employees’ occupational exposure during the pandemic. Use these risk zones to determine appropriate work practices and precautions for your workplace, then enact and enforce those work practices and precautions.

Q: What should I do if one of my employees tells me she thinks she was exposed to the coronavirus?

You should tell that employee to stay home and work from home, if possible, and quarantine for at least two weeks. Ask her who she was in close proximity to since she thinks she was exposed, and inform the co-workers who had contact with her to stay home and quarantine for two weeks as well. Do not identify the infected or exposed worker to co-workers, as this violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

As the coronavirus continues to spread and severely affect people of any age, in any health, you cannot be too careful. As an employer, enact and enforce those safety protocols appropriate for your workplace and the type of work you do. As an employee, follow your employer’s safety protocols.

About the Author

Veronica

Veronica Baxter is a legal assistant and blogger living and working in the great city of Philadelphia. She frequently works with Larry Pitt, a workers’ compensation lawyer in Philadelphia.

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