Yes, certain workers can get workers’ compensation benefits if they contract the coronavirus at work. To qualify for workers’ comp, a worker must be an employee, must have contracted COVID-19 on the job, and must be more susceptible to contracting the virus because of the nature of the job.
What is Workers’ Compensation?
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance system organized by each state. Rules differ state-to-state as to what employers are required to carry workers’ comp insurance. In some states, large national corporations can self-insure.
What is the Purpose of Workers’ Comp?
State legislators designed the workers’ compensation system to get injured employees the medical attention they need swiftly so that they can heal and get back to work. The system also compensates injured employees for wages lost as a result of the injury.
Without workers’ comp, employees would likely have to sue their employers and establish liability for the injury to be compensated. A lawsuit can take months or years to resolve, and receiving compensation is not a sure thing. Workers’ comp keeps disputes over liability for workplace injuries out of the court system and preserves the employer-employee relationship, and employers do not have to pay out of pocket for workplace injuries.
Who Qualifies for Workers’ Comp Benefits?
First, a worker must be an employee, not an independent contractor. In general, an employee will receive a W-2 at the end of the year that reports the amount earned and all withholdings, including income tax. An independent contractor will receive a 1099 and have nothing withheld.
This is often disputed, as workers who appear to be independent contractors may in fact be employees due to the degree of control the employer has, whether the worker performs the regular work of the employer, and whether the worker uses the employer’s equipment or tools rather than his own.
Such disputes are tried and settled in administrative workers’ comp courts.
Second, the employee must have been injured or contracted the illness on the job. If the worker is injured while taking a break and off-site, or while commuting to and from work, or while voluntarily attending a workplace social gathering, that is not compensable through workers’ compensation.
Third and last, it must be more likely for that worker to contract the illness or be injured due to the nature of the job.
What Type of Workers Will Get Workers’ Comp for COVID-19?
Because some infectious COVID-19 carriers are asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms, many people have unknowingly become infected by them. Those who are required to treat ill people are of course at risk of infection as part of their job, but anyone required to work physically close to others can argue that they could not avoid the risk of infection and still do their job.
There can be no doubt that doctors, nurses, and other hospital workers are exposed to the coronavirus as part of their duties, and if they contract the virus at work, they will be eligible for workers’ comp. Lab techs, coroners, orderlies, and ambulance drivers will also fall into this category.
Anyone in the healthcare field can argue that because they work closely with clients and patients, there is no way to avoid the risk of COVID-19 infection by asymptomatic carriers. This includes dentists and dental assistants and hygienists, optometrists, chiropractors, podiatrists, dermatologists, and any other medical specialty and assistants working in specialty medical fields.
What about massage therapists? Why not? If a massage therapist treats an infectious but asymptomatic client, he or she is certainly at high risk of infection.
Police, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and firefighters are all required to perform first aid when necessary, and if they treat an infectious but asymptomatic person, they are at high risk of infection.
Other aspects of their duties could also put them at risk, for example:
- Arresting and handcuffing,
- Carrying or assisting out of a burning building or car
Workers Who Cannot Maintain Social Distancing and Do Their Job
Employees who must mingle with large groups of people in confined spaces as part of their duties can argue that because they cannot maintain social distancing, their duties put them at risk for infection. These workers include teachers, coaches, and other school employees and bus and other public transportation drivers, among others.
Other workers who cannot maintain social distancing include wait staff at a restaurant, retail store clerks, convenience store cashiers, and others. These workers have no control over who frequents their establishment and how close they get.
What Should I Do If I Think I Have the Coronavirus?
You should call your doctor. Under no circumstances should you just show up to the emergency room or doctor’s office. Get instructions regarding where, when, and how to report for testing and treatment.
If you contracted COVID-19 at work, also tell your employer and call a workers’ comp lawyer to help you make your claim.
Veronica Baxter is a blogger and legal assistant living and working in the great city of Philadelphia. She frequently works with Larry Pitt, Esq., a busy Philadelphia workers’ compensation lawyer.