As COVID-19 has swept across the country, it has dramatically changed the face of the American workforce. As the virus gained a foothold in February and early March, many non-essential workers continued to go to work each day where they may have unknowingly spread the virus. Eventually, those whose jobs made it convenient began to work from home. For some, it was already too late. Meanwhile, those with essential jobs continued to go out and work and, inevitably, many of those people became ill, too—or still will. Here, we explain for those who may have contracted COVID-19 while working whether workers’ compensation will cover any lost wages, hospitalizations, tests, or treatments.
COVID-19 as a Work-Related Condition
First, let’s look at the term “work-related condition.” In order to be covered by workers’ compensation insurance, an injury or illness must be work-related. Sometimes this qualification is readily apparent, such as when a worker is injured by a piece of machinery. Illnesses take a bit more effort to tie to a workplace.
The law distinguishes between an illness with a clear link to the work—think asbestos-related lung cancer—and “illnesses of life.” The latter type can be acquired just as easily on or off the job. They are typically not covered.
Since COVID-19 is so highly contagious, and can be spread by asymptomatic carriers, it is hard to link to a specific source. You would need to demonstrate that:
- You were exposed to the virus on the job
- Your job presented greater risk of exposure than the risk to the general public
Healthcare workers and first responders may find that their cases more clearly meet these two requirements than would other types of workers. Some states are actually changing workers compensation guidelines with respect to first responders who contract COVID-19
Changes to Florida Workers’ Compensation after COVID-19
It was announced at the end of March that Florida state employees working in direct contact with people who may have COVID-19, are eligible for workers’ compensation coverage. The benefits will include coverage for a portion of lost wages, medical costs, death and disability benefits.There is a rather large caveat, however. State agencies can choose to opt-out of coverage. The Florida League of Cities said the Florida Municipal Insurance Trust also said they would cover claims for first responders.
It’s not clear as of this writing whether Florida will update its workers’ comp statutes for the general population as a result of COVID-19.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, the eligibility of workers’ comp claims related to COVID-19 will be determined “case by case and state by state.” Many state workers’ comp statutes exclude “ordinary diseases of life,” which may include COVID-19. A few states have made promises to cover wage replacement or medical costs for certain employees diagnosed with the virus. However, no such promises have come from Florida insurers yet.
Workers’ Comp for Federal Employees with COVID-19
Federal employees who develop COVID-19 while performing their jobs are eligible for workers compensation coverage under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA).
However, these employees are divided into two groups based on how much public contact their job entails. Someone with a high degree of public contact is classified as high-risk. For a person in a high-risk job: “If the employer supports the claim and that the exposure occurred, and the CA-1 is filed within 30 days, the employee is eligible to receive Continuation of Pay for up to 45 days.” Those in positions not considered high-risk will need to provide evidence that the illness is linked to their work.
COVID-19 Workers’ Compensation FAQs
What if I missed work to recover at home?
The majority of COVID-19 patients recover without hospitalization, with only over-the-counter treatments and rest. In this case, your main financial burden will be lost wages. First, make sure your employer gives you the time off to which you are entitled. Your employer may already supply you with a certain number of paid sick days, and they should not deny you the use of those. In addition, the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires an employer with fewer than 500 employees to give employees two weeks of additional paid sick days.
Will workers’ compensation cover COVID-19 treatments?
In addition to lost wages, expenses related to COVID-19 might include doctor or emergency room visits, ambulance rides, hospital stays, and even treatment for secondary illnesses that arise, such as pneumonia. It is important to keep track of all medical expenses and hospital invoices. In the event that a patient dies from COVID-19, their family could be eligible for death benefits through workers’ compensation.
What should I do if I contract COVID-19 on the job?
There are a few things you can do to help support your workers’ comp claim if you believe that you contracted the virus through work.
- Keep a record of your symptoms and dates.
- If possible, keep a record of people with whom you had contact in the preceding two weeks.
- Try to get a COVID-19 test. Tests are not widely available, but you can get one in some places if you meet certain criteria.
- Keep records of any medical appointments.
- Notify your employer of your illness promptly. In Florida, you have 30 days.
- Federal government employees should file Form CA-1, Notice of Traumatic Injury
- Your employer must notify its insurance company within seven days from when you report your illness.
When should I hire a workers compensation attorney?
It is generally a good idea to have legal help when navigating workers’ compensation, especially in a time where the system is dealing with unprecedented circumstances. You should contact an attorney right away if:
- Your employer refuses to cooperate.
- Your claim is denied.
- The compensation you receive does not cover your expenses and lost wages.
- You believe that your employer’s negligence contributed to your contracting the illness.
- You discover that your employer does not carry workers’ compensation insurance.
Due to the complexity of the state’s workplace injury system, it is always advisable to speak with a Florida personal injury attorney who knows the laws and can get you fair compensation.