As the cases of coronavirus (aka COVID-19) spread, many people are increasingly concerned about catching it in the office—especially those working in the healthcare, education, entertainment, and transportation industries. Many employers are particularly concerned and are wondering how to respond if an employee does contract the virus.
One common question is: should employers file a workers’ compensation claim with their insurance provider if an employee contracts coronavirus at work?
It’s important to note that each workers’ compensation claim is evaluated on a case-by-case basis and is subject to specific state workers’ compensation laws. There are guidelines that can help you determine whether or not a coronavirus illness may be covered under a workers’ comp insurance policy.
What is Workers’ Compensation?
First things first. Workers’ compensation insurance is designed to assist employees who incur medical costs, lost wages, and rehabilitation expenses in the event of work-related illness or injury. Workers’ comp may also provide death benefits and other financial services for the family members of an employee who died as a result of a work-related illness or injury.
Compared to an injury, it is generally more challenging to identify whether an illness is covered by workers’ comp—especially if that illness is circulating in the outside community, like coronavirus.
What is a work-related or occupational illness?
Not only is it more difficult to define what constitutes a workplace illness—each state may also define a workplace illness differently from other states. For example, Virginia defines an occupational disease as “a disease arising out of and in the course of employment, but not an ordinary disease of life to which the general public is exposed outside of the employment.” In this case, an employee falling ill from COVID-19 would likely not qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.
Long story short: It’s critical to visit your unique state workers’ compensation agency to find out how it specifically defines an occupational illness.
How can employers stay updated?
While you are researching your options, ask yourself:
– When the illness was contracted, was the employee performing job functions?
– Was the exposure to the illness specific to work or could have it been contracted somewhere else?
– Do coworkers have similar symptoms?
– Were the onset and timing of the symptoms related to work?
– How widespread is the illness? Is it in the general community?
Ultimately, whether or not a sickness caused by COVID-19 will qualify as an occupational illness—and constitutes a compensable workers’ compensation claim—will vary by case.
For the most recent updates on how you can help protect yourself and your employees from coronavirus and other communicable illnesses, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers.