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Does Workers’ Compensation Cover Illness Caused by COVID-19?

Does Workers' Comp Cover COVID-19?

Amid global efforts to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), “nonessential” businesses throughout California have temporarily shut their doors. Other businesses, including restaurants and bars, have been ordered to conduct partial business, limiting operations to take-out and delivery only. As certain employees—including delivery drivers, health care workers, postal workers, and certain retail employees—continue to report for work, there is a growing fear of being exposed to COVID-19 as a result of being unable to stay at home.

This fear is not unfounded. Doctors, nurses, and hospital staff, especially, are at a higher-than-average risk of exposure, but other workers who must continue coming into contact with others could also be at risk. Many people are concerned about their options if they have been exposed to the coronavirus while on the job and, as a result, are forced to take time off work. Will workers’ compensation cover your medical expenses? Will you be able to recover benefits for missed wages? The answer, put simply, is it depends.

Is There a Precedent for Workers’ Compensation Covering Global Pandemics?

According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), “you would be hard pressed to find meaningful information on how or even if the workers’ compensation (WC) system was affected” by past health crises, such as H1N1, SARS, Zika, or Ebola. That’s not to say that workers’ compensation won’t cover coronavirus-related illness, but the question of if or how affected individuals could be compensated remains to be seen. Most likely, this will vary from state to state and will depend heavily on the circumstances of your situation. Specifically, you will likely need to prove that you contracted COVID-19 as a direct result of your work, not merely that you could have been exposed or contracted the virus at work.

Proving Your Illness Is Work-Related

Generally speaking, the California workers’ compensation system covers any employee who sustains a work-related injury or occupational illness. This means that only injuries and illnesses incurred while an employee is carrying out duties to benefit his or her employer are covered by workers’ compensation. Currently, the same appears to be true for cases involving COVID-19; if an employee can show that his or her coronavirus-related illness was caused as a result of his or her work, that employee may be able to file a workers’ compensation claim.

However, in order to receive benefits, you will likely need to prove that you were exposed to and contracted COVID-19 at work or as a result of your work-related duties. This can be incredibly difficult to do without extremely meticulous records.

Disability Benefits for Affected California Workers

Recently, the Employment Development Department of the State of California announced that workers who were ill or quarantined as a result of medically certified exposure to or positive testing for the coronavirus may file a Disability Insurance claim. Governor Gavin Newsom reiterated this in a tweet stating, “If a medical professional says you’re unable to work, if your hours have been reduced, or your employer has shut down – you can file a claim.” He also noted that the state has “waived the 1 week waiting period for those unemployed or disabled as a result of COVID-19.”

In contrast to workers’ compensation, disability insurance is available to those who suffer non-work-related injuries, illnesses, or conditions that prevent them from working. These are short-term wage replacement benefits, intended to provide temporary financial assistance.

Reach Out to Our Firm for Help with Your Case

If you are a worker in Northern California who has been exposed to or contracted COVID-19 while on the job, we encourage you to reach out to our workers’ compensation attorneys to discuss the specifics of your situation. In these unprecedented times, our firm is here to help guide you through your various legal options and assist you in finding a solution to keep you on your feet.

Please contact us for a free, confidential consultation today.