If I Catch COVID-19, Do I Have a Workers’ Comp Claim?
Determining whether you contracted the coronavirus during the course of employment and were more likely than not to catch it there, you may have an argument that you are entitled to workers’ compensation.
Workers’ comp benefits would include medical expenses and lost wages. It could also include future earnings and future medical expenses if you have a severe case of the novel coronavirus that impairs or destroys your ability to work.
Determining whether you are entitled to workers’ comp benefits if you’ve caught the coronavirus will be a fact-specific inquiry based on the criteria set forth below.
What is Workers’ Comp?
Workers Compensation is a state statutory scheme which provides an orderly way for employees who are injured on the job to receive benefits in the form of medical treatment and expenses, rehabilitation, lost wages while ill or injured, and lost future wages if the illness or injury impedes the employee’s ability to work.
While workers’ compensation varies a bit from state-to-state, the purpose is universal – to avoid litigation between employee and employer, and to get the employee the medical treatment he or she needs to recover and get back to work.
What Can Be Compensable under Workers’ Comp?
- Injuries sustained at work
- Illnesses and Diseases caught at work
- Occupational Diseases caused by the type of work done
- Mental disease, such as anxiety or emotional distress, caused by the work environment
- Death of an employee while working
In order to be compensable, the illness or injury must have happened during the course of employment, and it must result in an impairment of the employee’s ability to perform his or her duties, therefore, they are losing wages.
Who Can Receive Workers’ Comp?
Only employees. Independent contractors, unpaid interns, and vendors are not eligible for workers’ comp benefits. Neither are customers or clients of the employer who happened to be on the premises when they are injured or contract an illness.
Who Can Receive Workers’ Comp for the Novel Coronavirus?
Most definitely doctors, nurses, and other hospital workers who come into contact with infected patients in the course of employment. The virus is very contagious, passing from person to person through tiny airborne droplets that become airborne due to a sneeze or a cough, and the virus can survive on surfaces from several hours to days, depending on the surface type.
What about Other Healthcare Workers?
More attenuated healthcare workers, such as in-home nurses and assistants, coroners, orderlies, ambulance drivers, physical therapists, chiropractors, and massage therapists may be eligible for workers comp benefits if they contract COVID-19 at work. Similarly, EMTs and other first responders may be eligible for workers’ comp if they catch it from a person they are saving or treating.
What If I Cannot Maintain Social Distancing at Work?
Other employees who are at risk of contracting the virus are those who cannot escape contact or close quarters with groups of individuals and therefore cannot follow social distancing rules of keeping a six-foot distance between themselves and others. These are people like teachers and other school personnel, school and public transit bus and trolley operators.
What if I Must Touch People as Part of My Job?
Finally, if a job requires close contact with an individual and the employee cannot avoid it and still do their job, they may also be eligible for workers’ compensation if they contract the virus at work. These employees might be hairdressers, manicurists, postal employees, employees of private mail carriers, grocery cashiers and clerks, and the like.
Worker’s Comp Will Likely Not Cover You If You Contract COVID-19:
- While under the influence of drugs or alcohol at work
- While in proximity to a contagious person because of horseplay or fighting at work
- While commuting to or from work in a private vehicle with a contagious person
- During a social gathering with co-workers, like a party or picnic, and someone there is contagious
- If you are exposed to the virus while on break from work off-site
The Coronavirus is Deadly – Take Precautions
As of this writing (March 25, 2020), COVID-19 has spread worldwide, with 460,658 people afflicted and 20,843 deaths. In the U.S., 63,098 people are afflicted, and there have been 886 deaths. The numbers rise daily, and there is no flattening of the curve in sight despite actions taken by federal and state governments to halt the spread of the virus.
Those afflicted with COVID-19 may be asymptomatic yet can still infect others. This is why it is important to work from home if you can, and if you must go out, maintain a six-foot distance from others where possible and wash hands frequently.
If you think despite taking precautions you’ve contracted COVID-19 at work, tell your employer right away and contact an experienced workers’ comp attorney to see if you can file a workers’ comp claim.
Veronica Baxter is a blogger and legal assistant with Philadelphia workers’ compensation attorney Larry Pitt, Esq.