In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts are wondering what capacity Workers’ Compensation may play in the aftermath of essential workers testing positive for the virus. Traditionally, Workers’ Compensation is an insurance policy that covers medical treatment and lost wages due to time out for injuries and occupational diseases sustained in the workplace. Every state has its own unique policy for specific industries, business sizes and occupations.
The big question is: Will New York approve workers’ compensation for essential employees that test positive due to coming into contact with the virus at work.
Generally, workers’ compensation does not cover illnesses like the annual cold or flu because it is difficult to tie the initial contact directly to the workplace. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 19 states had policies that presumed illnesses that first responders are at high risk for developing, such as; lung and respiratory illnesses, that are linked to their profession and covered under workers’ compensation. It is still unclear which direction New York will take in providing coverage for essential workers. Another issue presented is that many careers previously not thought of as having hazardous working conditions, now fall under this category. Workers such as healthcare providers, transit workers and grocery store employees are undoubtedly at a higher risk for coming into contact with COVID and testing positive themselves due to their employment.
State Workers’ Compensation Response to COVID-19
Some states are in the beginning process of extending workers’ compensation to include COVID-19 as a presumed illness for first responders. This presumption makes it easier for workers to file successful claims and forces the employer and insurer to prove that the infection was not work-related. Some states have used Executive Branch Authority to implement coverage for first responders and healthcare workers. Illinois and Kentucky are even providing additional coverage for essential workers such as grocery store employees.
Some criteria states are implementing are:
- Is there an increased risk that COVID-19 was contracted due to the worker’s occupation?
- Would the worker have been exposed somewhere else if not for their employment?
- Is there a specific point at which the worker can pinpoint coming into contact with the virus?
What is New York doing for their essential employees?
Currently, New York has a pending bill that would “Create a presumption that impairment of health caused by COVID-19 was incurred in the performance and discharge of duty of certain police, parole and probation officers and other emergency responders; relates to use of sick leave due to COVID-19.” This bill does not include other workers that have been deemed essential such as healthcare workers, transit employees, grocery store workers and other careers that typically are not associated with increased risk, but have proven to be in the wake of this pandemic. As of May 4th, New York has introduced a bill that would potentially cover all citizens who have come into contact with the COVID virus at their place of work and tested positive. This bill would classify the Coronavirus as an occupational disease and create the presumption that workers contracted the virus due to their essential status and need to continue working during the pandemic. New York must support all of their front line workers and implement a policy that compensates them for time lost at work, medical treatment required to treat the virus, and in the unfortunate case of death, compensate their families for their loss. These workers have been putting the health and safety of themselves and their families at risk to continue to provide the services that we cannot live without as a society and they should be justly protected.
To follow New York’s bill visit here and here to stay up to date on its current status and support the bills by voting “AYE” to notify your Senator that this bill should pass.