Can I Get Workers’ Compensation if I Got Coronavirus at Work?
Michele Mirman | Workers' Compensation | March 31, 2020
With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to cause havoc around the world, many businesses and organizations are requiring their employees to work from home. Some businesses have even begun laying people off – temporarily, we hope.
Simply put, we’re in uncharted territory for modern-day society.
As some employees work from home, many others are still having to report to work. In most cases, it’s because they work in fields believed to be essential to the basic function of our society.
Unfortunately, employees reporting for duty have contracted the coronavirus while on the job.
Am I Eligible for Workers’ Compensation for Getting the Coronavirus While Working?
The short answer is “probably not.” That’s because most instances of exposure are not considered related to your job.
The coronavirus’ incubation period is between 2 to 14 days. That is the time from exposure to when symptoms first arise. So, meticulous records are needed to pinpoint the exact place and time you contracted the illness.
Employers and insurers will carefully examine each claim for coronavirus benefits.
If you work in an industry that requires close contact with people who may have the coronavirus, your workers’ compensation claim will be a lot stronger. These workplaces include doctor’s offices, test labs, and hospitals.
The state of Washington, which has been hit hard by the virus, has already indicated that, other than healthcare workers and first responders, most cases of coronavirus will not be covered by workers’ comp.
Do I Have to Have Been on the Worksite in Order to Collect Workers’ Compensation Benefits?
In order to receive workers’ comp benefits, you must be able to prove the illness occurred while carrying out the functions of your job.
This may be at the workplace, but it could also be somewhere else, such as on the job site or traveling for work.
If you experience long-term symptoms of the coronavirus, a workers’ comp attorney would be a good person to speak with to gauge the strength of your case.
Does That Mean I Can’t Sue My Employer If I Get the Coronavirus?
The workers’ comp system generally means that you can’t sue your own employer. But, there are exceptions when it comes to your legal rights to hold your employer accountable.
For example, let’s say your employer did not follow the CDC protocols for the coronavirus nor take any precautions at all to prevent employees from exposure.
This could be considered “gross negligence” by your employer. If you can prove gross negligence on the part of your employer, you could be entitled to full compensation – including compensation for non-economic losses like pain and suffering and emotional distress.
What’s the Difference Between Negligence and Gross Negligence?
While the two terms appear frequently in legal discussions, they are quite different.
Negligence is defined as not providing a certain level of care or caution that would normally be shown by the average person in a similar situation. Running a red light or a store manager failing to put up a caution sign about a wet floor are good examples of negligence.
Gross negligence, on the other hand, occurs when someone is completely indifferent about a danger or shows reckless disregard for it while putting others at risk.
The level of care required to control the spread of coronavirus is as yet unknown. If the situation continues to worsen, employers may face heightened obligations to keep their workers safe.
How Do I File for Workers’ Comp?
Although for many, receiving workers’ comp for coronavirus symptoms may be a long shot, it is not impossible. Since we’ve never faced this type of national emergency before, it is difficult to predict how the Workers’ Compensation Board will react to claims.
Healthcare workers and first responders who are infected are especially encouraged to consider workers’ comp claims. For these employees, there may not be another option to cover the cost of medical bills and missed wages.
To get started on a workers’ comp claim, you must notify your employer in writing about when, where, and how you got sick. Then, you must submit a claim form, which can be completed online.
It is also strongly recommended to contact an experienced workers’ comp attorney as early in the process as possible. A lawyer can guide you through each form and notice requirement and ensure that all the correct paperwork gets completed.
A skilled workers’ comp attorney will also advocate for you in the event that your employer or the workers’ compensation insurer wants to deny your claim.