Can you get workers’ comp for coronavirus?

workers comp for coronavirus
Photo via Anthony Easton/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • Employees exposed on the job are trying to qualify for workers’ comp
  • The program only covers healthcare workers in most states
  • California is taking a more inclusive approach

More than 6.5 million people have been infected with COVID-19 in the U.S. since the pandemic began. In some cases, the process of recovery is brief and relatively painless. In others, those infected with the virus, aka long haulers, can take months to recover—if they ever fully recuperate. Falling ill with coronavirus can leave people bedbound for weeks, and the long-term health impacts have yet to be determined. This has people wondering if workers’ comp covers coronavirus. 

The worker’s compensation federal program excludes cases of influenza or the common cold, but employees exposed to COVID-19 may qualify for compensation. Workers’ comp is designed to “help employees who incur medical, wage loss, and rehabilitation expenses caused by work-related accidents and diseases,” according to Employment Law Firms

Depending on your manner of employment and the state in which you reside, your workers’ comp options may vary. Healthcare workers and first responders exposed to COVID-19 in Washington state are covered, but other essential workers like grocery clerks are not. Typically, in order to qualify for worker’s comp, an employee must have contracted an illness or suffered an injury due to the requirements of their job. In the case of COVID-19, employees who are exposed to the virus due to their continued presence in a public space chould, conceivably, qualify. Specifically, Employment Law Firms notes that an illness should qualify “when the risk of contracting it from employment is materially greater than the risk posed to the general public.”

This statement would make it seem as though all employees forced to expose themselves to large numbers of people—including restaurant employees, janitors, and even construction workers—should be covered. In most states, however, this is not the case. 

This has led to several landmark legal cases. In the early days of the pandemic, many employers were accused of failing to provide proper protection for their employees. 

Human Resources Director quotes the founder of Canadian employment law firm Rudner Law, Stuart Rudner, as saying “simply being exposed to the risk of COVID-19 isn’t grounds for a worker to sue their employer.” More lawsuits are sure to arise out of the pandemic and the risk it poses to workers’ health. According to Human Resources Director, “declaring COVID-19 a workplace injury may serve to minimize employers’ risk against lawsuit.” 

Most states in the U.S. only consider COVID-19 a workplace injury for healthcare workers. California has taken a more inclusive approach, however. Anyone who has been forced to work outside their homes during the pandemic can file a workers’ comp claim for coronavirus in the state. Some employers are considering the use of waivers to provide a legal loophole, but experts warn that this won’t necessarily save them from a COVID-19-related lawsuit. 

In Australia, Workplace Safety Minister Jill Hennessy is considering classifying COVID-19 as a workplace injury. The process of doing so isn’t easy, however, as the coronavirus’ long gestation period can make it difficult to determine when, exactly, the virus was contracted. 

Sources: NCCI, Employment Law Firms, Brink News, Human Resources Director

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