When the coronavirus pandemic gained traction in the U.S. in February 2020, most workplaces were caught by surprise and had little idea how to handle the situation. As things worsened, many businesses shut down voluntarily or did so due to orders given by their state governments. However, many businesses deemed to be essential, such as grocery stores and others, remained open with workers who were potentially being exposed to COVID-19 while on the job. Yet while it may seem like an open and shut case to assume a worker in these situations contracted COVID-19 from their job, proving this can be tricky. If you are pursuing workers’ comp during the pandemic, here is what you need to know.
No Clear Distinctions
While workers’ comp will cover many job-related injuries and illnesses, COVID-19 has presented a unique and murky situation. According to most workers’ compensation guidelines, illnesses such as the flu or colds that are known to spread easily are usually not covered by workers’ comp, since it can be almost impossible to prove you got sick while at your job. Because of this, many workers who have contracted COVID-19 have had workers’ comp claims denied due to a lack of clear evidence showing they contracted the virus while on the job.
Untraceable Community Spread
As the coronavirus has continued to spread throughout U.S. communities, this untraceable community spread has made it even more difficult for workers who are ill with the virus to gain workers’ compensation benefits. For example, if a nurse, police officer, or bus driver gets COVID-19, the assumption is they got sick while on the job. However, as with retail workers and others, proving the disease was contracted while on the job is virtually impossible to prove.
Actions by Individual States
Due to the federal government taking little if any action on the issue of workers’ compensation and COVID-19, many states have expanded workers’ compensation benefits in an effort to help workers who get sick with COVID-19. However, most of these expansions only apply to healthcare workers, first responders, and select employees in certain industries who may be considered essential employees. But due to laws varying from state to state and only 19 states thus far choosing to expand these benefits, this means workers who may be covered in one state may not be in a neighboring state. If you find yourself in this position, it is probably best to consult an attorney who specializes in workers’ compensation cases for advice and guidance.
States Covering All Workers
While only a select number of states have expanded their workers’ compensation benefits to include COVID-19, a few have taken steps to ensure all workers ill with COVID-19 can receive their workers’ compensation benefits. However, at this time the list only includes Arkansas, Wyoming, and California. Though this is a step in the right direction, all workers in these states who are ill with COVID-19 must still be able to prove they contracted the virus while on the job, since there is no presumption of coverage. Thus, like workers in other states, knowing it and proving it can be two different things. In California, some standards have been put in place to help workers prove they got sick on the job. For example, in businesses with up to 100 employees, having four employees who test positive for COVID-19 within a 14-day period is considered proof an ill worker got the virus while on the job.
Seek Legal Help
Since workers’ compensation cases are complex even under normal circumstances, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made these cases even harder to win. However, if you have suffered from COVID-19 and strongly believe you got sick only because you were required to be at work, don’t be intimidated into doing nothing. Instead, schedule a consultation immediately with an experienced workers’ comp attorney who can fight to help you get the compensation you deserve.