Three Challenges Facing COVID-19 Patients Seeking Workers’ Compensation

July 1, 2020

While many employees transitioned into working remotely during the Coronavirus outbreak, others continued reporting to their places of employment. Healthcare workers, emergency personnel, food and beverage employees, and others in “essential” industries are on the front lines trying to keep America moving forward. These employees may have a higher risk of being exposed to COVID-19 while working, but does that qualify them for worker’s compensation benefits?

1. The Circumstance

Most workers’ compensation claims typically point to an acute injury or condition that arises from the employee’s workplace during his or her employment. A cut to the hand can be connected to a piece of equipment. A severe back injury may relate to a physical demand on the job. What’s not so clear? Tying the contraction of a worldwide, fast-spreading, airborne illness to a specific place or time. Even cases stemming directly from healthcare settings, like emergency rooms and doctor’s offices, can be hard to prove. Simply put, the novel Coronavirus is everywhere, and one could argue that the illness may have been contracted outside of the workplace.

2. The Law

Emergency legislation on federal, state, and local levels has increased paid and unpaid sick leave time off and unemployment insurance benefits for certain COVID-19-related absences and loss of work, but there is much to be done regarding workers’ compensation. 

Under current Virginia law, claimants can file for workers’ compensation to cover the costs of care for some “Work-Related Diseases”. Those include conditions ranging from carpal tunnel syndrome and PTSD to COPD and Mesothelioma. Work-related diseases are broken down into three categories: Occupational Diseases, Presumptive Diseases, and Ordinary Diseases of Life, which is most likely where one would file COVID-19 claim. Virginia Code 65.2-401 covers employment in a hospital, healthcare, emergency rescue and similar employment settings and says “clear and convincing evidence” is required to prove a disease that affects the general public was contracted under employment. Translation? A high burden of proof is required to make the case and, ultimately, makes it harder for a claimant to prove causation.

3. The Shutdown

Closures in and of themselves have affected the progress of lawmakers who are paving the way for Coronavirus patients seeking workers’ compensation. Throughout the shutdown, the team at Potter Mariano has continued working to stay up to date on all COVID-19 related legislation and we’re prepared to help you navigate the difficult terrain. If you have questions as to whether or not you may be eligible for workers’ compensation, contact us for a free consultation! Reach out to us through our Contact page, email us at info@pandmplc.com, or give us a call at (540) 400-6238.

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