RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The COVID-19 pandemic has created many new challenges for employers and states, including questions about workers’ compensation for those who have become infected by the virus
It’s an emerging issue — and is on the minds of at least one CBS 17 viewer.
Willie George contacted us wanting to know “if a person contracts the virus at work is it covered by workers’ comp?”
Consumer investigator Steve Sbraccia consulted a pair of attorneys at the Martin & Jones law firm who specialize in those kinds of cases and found out it’s a rather complicated issue.
“What any claimant would have to prove is the causation between their employment and the development of the disease,” said attorney Steven Corriveau.
He said they would also “have to prove their employment placed them at increased risk of developing that disease.”
For example, health care workers in hospitals, nursing homes, doctor offices or other medical facilities have jobs that place them at greater risk for contracting the disease.
But, lawyers said, proving someone caught COVID-19 at work is going to be difficult.
“If your risk at work is no more than if you went to the grocery store or someplace else, I think that will be a much more difficult claim make,” explained attorney Forest Horne.
If a company does things like providing deep cleaning, limits the number of in-office workers and provides hand sanitizer to employees, all of that is going to help the company defend itself in a workers’ compensation case.
Although many people have short-term disability on the job, the attorneys said it may not cover as much as workers’ comp.
“It depends on what the short term policy says,” said Corriveau. “Often the benefits under workers’ comp are higher than short term disability.”
He also said that health insurance does not pay when someone is unable to work, unable to earn wages or has permanent impairment as the result of a disease.
In contrast, the workers’ comp system is designed to supplement someone is they are unable to work.
As the issue gains more prominence, lawyers say it’s possible lawmakers will enact some sort of COVID-19 immunity for companies.
“There’s going to be some sort of legislation at some point and I don’t know if it will make it easier or harder for someone who believes they developed COVID-19 as a result of exposure there,” said Horne.
Both Horne and Corriveau say any workers’ comp cases relating to COVID-19 would have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis which includes a detailed fact-driven analysis.
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