Workers’ compensation insurance currently covers COVID exposure only for frontline workers such as healthcare professionals and first responders. But as more and more outbreaks happened in grocery stores, meatpacking plants, and even on farms, lawmakers consider extending COVID-19 coverage to more essential workers. Are you covered?
What is Worker’s Compensation?
Workers’ compensation, or workman’s compensation, is an insurance policy that covers the medical bills and lost wages of workers injured at work or sick with a work-related illness. Workers’ comp insurance is the nation’s oldest social insurance program, with the first states rolling it out as early as the late 1910s.
The insurance’s program chief purpose is to shield both employees and employers from financial hardships spurred by a work-related injury or illness. Before workers’ compensation, a worker had to sue the business to get financial compensation for their injuries and monetary losses.
Likewise, before the workers’ comp, some businesses went bankrupt after being sued by their injured workers for compensation. Nowadays, if your business has more than one employee in most states, this insurance coverage is mandatory. Workers’ compensation coverage does not apply to business owners and independent contractors. It applies only to employees and their employers.
The major downside of accessing workers’ comp benefits is that you can no longer sue your employer for damages, with a few exceptions. Also, workers’ comp benefits do not include compensation for the employee’s physical pain and emotional suffering like a lawsuit does.
Does Workers Comp Cover COVID Exposure?
During the ongoing public health crisis, many workers wondered whether falling ill with COVID-19 is covered under their state’s workers’ comp laws. The answer is more nuanced as it depends on the state.
Many U.S. states are currently considering including COVID-19 in the list of covered occupational illnesses for more workers. At the beginning of the pandemic, only frontline workers like doctors, nurses, and first responders were covered.
Later on, when outbreaks started affecting other places than hospitals, such as meatpacking factories, farms, and grocery stores, lawmakers issued laws to offer coverage to essential workers with considerable COVID-19 exposure as well.
However, there is staunch opposition coming from employers and their insurance carriers. Opponents argue that workers’ comp does not traditionally cover community spread illnesses such as the flu, cough, or colds and for a good reason: No one can prove that the condition was acquired in the workplace due to the long incubation period. The same goes for COVID-19: No worker can really prove that he or she caught COVID-19 on the job instead of at the grocery store.
That is why many workers who filed workers’ comp claims after falling sick with the novel coronavirus saw their claims rejected for the said reasoning. So, as of now, if you are not a frontline worker, coverage depends on your home state workers’ comp laws as many state offer insurance only to healthcare workers and first responders, while others include other essential workers as well, such as truck drivers and grocery store workers.
In the current environment, it is extremely hard to navigate workers’ comp rules and related ordinances by oneself. You’ll be better off if you contact a workers’ compensation lawyer if you want to file a claim after catching COVID-19 on the job. A specialized attorney will know how to gather all the necessary evidence to help you build a strong case of your state offers workers’ comp coverage for COVID-19 exposure.
In most states, workers’ compensation insurance covers COVID exposure only for workers with a higher-than-average risk of contracting it, such as medical doctors, nurses, and police officers. For the rest of the “essential” workers, legislation is still patchy as some states offer COVID-19 coverage for non-front line workers, while others are working on it.
In most cases, it is best to talk with an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer to see if you can receive benefits after falling ill with COVID in the workplace. Grocery store workers, truck drivers, front office employees, factory workers, and even farmers with COVID-19 might be eligible for compensation under workers’ comp, but that depends on each state’s current legislation.