Coronavirus and Workers' Compensation

Can a person get Workers’ Compensation due to Coronavirus?

The answer to this is maybe. I’ll explain that part in more detail later, but first why it could matter greatly? In a typical situation it’s really not going to matter much. If a worker gets the virus and is like the vast majority, has limited symptoms and doesn’t miss much work then due to the limited benefits that would be paid in that situation it’s probably not going to be worth the inevitable fight to try to get the benefits. But, what about the serious cases that result in hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical bills and cause serious medical conditions or even death? In those situations it obviously matters and matters greatly. Are there situations where it could be a workers’ compensation case? Yes.

In addition to accidents, workers’ compensation also applies to occupational diseases. By statute there are certain diseases that are listed. If a disease isn’t on the list and Coronavirus isn’t, there is a legal test for determining whether the employer must pay workers’ compensation benefits. The test is whether: 1. The employment caused or contributed to the condition and 2. The employment placed the employee at a greater risk of developing the condition than members of the general public.

Given that test, if a healthcare worker, who is dealing with Coronavirus patients gets it, then yes, in my opinion that person is definitely entitled to workers’ compensation benefits.

But, what about other workers? I think that depends on the situation. If the pandemic progresses and all “nonessential” jobs are shut down and an employee in one of those “essential” jobs gets it, then I think a case can be made that the employee is entitled to benefits under certain circumstances. I think some of the issues would be how much the job required the employee to come in contact with other people and what were the employee’s actions outside of work. If the employee was engaging in social distancing, only going out for essential things other than work and was the first or only member of his or her household to get it, then an argument definitely could be made in favor of it being compensable. If the employee was not being responsible in his or her outside of work activities then the case is much more difficult, because it’s harder to show that the fact he or she was working while others were at home increased his or her risk. I also think the overall infection rate of the area matters as well. If the person is in an area where a high percentage of the general population gets Coronavirus regardless of their activities, then it is going to be much harder to show that the employment increased the employee’s risk of getting it and meet that portion of the legal test.

This is a new situation for us all. It will obviously raise a variety of new issues that must ultimately be decided including legal issues. My thoughts laid out here are based on the law as it currently stands. Given the anticipated widespread issues there is a chance that there could be legislative changes or clarifications on some of the issues I’ve raised here.

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