Workers getting sick from COVID-19 could have difficulty getting approved for workers’ compensation as many state statues exclude “ordinary diseases of life,” and pinpointing the precise moment and method of virus transmission is difficult to determine, reports Fair Warning.
The nonprofit news organization that focuses on public health, consumer, labor and environmental issues, says many states have not made a change to their laws or rules since the pandemic to include “presumptions,” and some states that have only extended those presumptions to hospital or emergency response workers.
There is no easy way for the average employee to rule out alternative non-work-related causes for a COVID-19 diagnosis, as transmission can occur through family members or friends and, sometimes dogs.
“Trying to prove where somebody contracted an infection is really difficult,” Bill Smith, president of the nonprofit Workers’ Injury Law & Advocacy Group, told Fair Warning. “You’ve got health care workers working around individuals who are positive and you would think clearly they would be covered. They may or may not, depending on what state you’re in.”
More than a dozen states, including Alaska, Florida, Michigan, Utah, Illinois and Wisconsin, enacted laws creating a presumption limited to first responders. Kentucky created broader presumptions applying to essential employees which includes grocery store employees, domestic violence shelter workers and child advocacy and childcare workers.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order creating a workers’ compensation COVID-19 presumption for all employees. New Jersey is currently considering similar legislation. For employees covered by these laws, the burden of proof on causation is lowered or eliminated entirely following diagnosis of COVID-19.
The Department of Labor says all federal employees who develop COVID-19 while performing federal duties are entitled to workers’ compensation claims, and classified employees required to have in-person and close proximity interactions as high-risk.
“In such cases, there is an implicit recognition that a higher likelihood exists of infection due to high-risk employment,” says the DOL.
About 4,000 federal employees have filed claims with the department due to COVID-19.
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