From the early days of the pandemic, COVID-19 has rapidly and dramatically altered the landscape of employment policy for businesses around the United States. Among the most pressing policy topics were questions regarding the potential to contract COVID-19 at work.
Is it possible to determine whether COVID-19 is contracted at work? What are the implications on workers' compensation?
Policymakers in the United States have sought to clarify workers' compensation coverage in the context of COVID-19. Traditionally, workers’ compensation policies have not covered a viral illness like cold or flu precisely because of the difficulty of proving a worker contracted a virus on the job.
However, the National Council on State Legislatures has identified 14 states that have sought to expand workers’ compensation coverage to include COVID-19 as a work-related illness for certain categories of employees.
While these moves have failed in two states (Kansas and Louisiana), other states have successfully enacted policies or proposed bills that are pending final decisions. Employees who do receive expanded coverage will likely still need to offer evidence that they contracted COVID-19 in the course of their job duties in order to qualify for workers’ compensation.
With such changes under discussion, employers can expect to see an uptick in COVID-19-related workers' compensation claims.
Data from both California and Florida shows just how many cases are popping up related to COVID-19. The Florida Division of Workers’ Compensation released that 21,221 COVID-19 indemnity claims have been filed as of September 30th. Even more so, in California, the California Division of Workers’ Compensation released that COVID-19 was the cause of 41,861 first reports of injury from January 1st to September 30th. All these filings claim these individuals contracted the virus in the course of their work.
How do you prepare for COVID-19 related workers’ compensation claims?
Employers monitoring these trends should review their policies and processes to ensure they are consistent with relevant guidance. Law firm Ogletree Deakins advises,
“Employers can prepare for workers’ compensation claims by following and keeping up to date on CDC, OSHA, and other state guidelines for a safe workplace. In addition, employers can prepare by keeping good records and illustrating the steps taken to prevent infection from getting into and spreading in the workplace.”
With the right prevention policies, documentation, and communication, employers can create the safest possible workplace and be prepared to discuss possible workers' compensation claims in the coming months.
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