Now more than ever, nurses, doctors and first responders are fighting to keep themselves and their patients alive during a time when protective gear and medical equipment are in considerably short supply, hospital beds are numbered and their own health is at risk.
Since no vaccine exists yet to fight the coronavirus, if a worker in any profession contracts this disease, they are forced to self-quarantine for a minimum of 2 weeks (usually more if they are in the healthcare field).
During that time, they may need to apply for workers’ compensation to make up for the lack of income, but the obstacles in the way of obtaining that coverage resemble a labyrinth of criteria and required evidence, and vary from state to state.
Here are the 3 biggest legal hurdles frontline workers face in order to get compensation for contracting coronavirus:
1. Ordinary diseases of life
In order to distinguish between a workplace injury or illness, workers’ compensation excludes those diseases not explicitly associated with the employee’s particular work conditions. For example, firefighters are more susceptible to cancer, farmers are more likely to suffer from anthrax and construction workers often work with asbestos, which causes mesothelioma.
Since the coronavirus is not considered a hazard of any particular job, it’s not guaranteed that workers’ compensation benefits will be granted if a nurse, doctor or EMT catches it from one of their patients, or lacks essential protective gear.
2. Work-related injury or illness
Because the coronavirus is so widespread, it is easily contracted in any public or private space such as a restaurant or coffee shop, at home from another member of the household or on the street from a number of passersby.
Workers’ compensation outlines that the disease or injury which has left the employee unable to work must be the result of a workplace accident, which is ambiguously defined as an unexpected event that took place at work.
3. Burden of proof
If the disease or accident took place at work, it is the worker’s responsibility to show proof of this. The government will not grant a working citizen workers’ compensation simply because they have the coronavirus.
This “imposes a virtually insurmountable barrier to receiving benefits,” wrote William L. Smith II, president of the Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group. “The unintended consequence is that those who put their life on the line to protect all of us are left without a remedy if and when harm strikes their family.”
In his open letter to the U.S. governors and state legislatures, Smith calls them to action by tasking them with implementing executive orders and legislation to aid those who are constantly putting their lives on the line during this pandemic for the good of their community.
By passing a modified workers’ compensation legislation specifically addressing COVID-19, this could help millions of medical professionals and emergency responders who are most likely to come into contact with the disease.
The downside might be raised workers’ compensation premiums, but the upside would be protection for employers from possible negligence claims filed by employees who suffered from the coronavirus. Alaska has already made strides towards helping their workers by recently passing a bill that extends workers’ compensation to occupations where COVID-19 is a high risk.
Hopefully, this will encourage other states to follow suit.
Gerber & Holder Workers' Compensation Attorneys