While most of the country self isolates to flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections, various essential workers face infection while helping to keep the nation running.
Depending on a state’s definitions of occupational illnesses and/or diseases that may arise out of employment, coronavirus could be considered a reasonable occupational risk that warrants workers’ comp coverage. However, with a lack of clarity surrounding such language, several state governments have expanded workers’ comp coverage for COVID-19 to certain workers who may be exposed to the virus in the line of duty.
In early March, the Washington Department of Labor began providing benefits to quarantined healthcare workers and first responders. Coverage includes medical testing, treatment expenses if a worker becomes ill or injured, and indemnity payments for those who cannot work if they are sick or quarantined.
A week later, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum issued Executive Order 2020-12, which also expanded coverage to first responders and healthcare workers, making them eligible for 14 days of wage replacement and medical coverage if quarantined. This measure applied to volunteer first responders as well.
In early April, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation issued a memo expressing that first responders, healthcare workers, and others that contract COVID-19 due to work-related exposure would be eligible for workers’ comp benefits under Florida law. The memo states that “insurers licensed to provide workers’ compensation coverage in Florida are reminded of this statutory requirement, which must be applied on a non-discriminatory basis.” With no clarification on “others” and “non-discriminatory basis,” several other occupations could possibly receive similar benefits.
Meanwhile in Minnesota, Governor Tim Walz signed House Bill 4537, which provides workers’ comp coverage for COVID-19 due to workplace exposure for first responders, correctional officers, healthcare workers, home health workers, and childcare workers providing care to first responders. Employees who contract COVID-19 but do not fall into these categories are not precluded from claiming COVID-19 as an occupational disease.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear issued Executive Order 2020-277, expanding coverage to first responders, healthcare workers, grocery store workers, postal workers, childcare workers, domestic violence shelter workers, and child advocacy workers.
Missouri issued an emergency rule to cover first responders, while the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission issued an emergency ruling that offers coverage to first responders, healthcare workers, and other front-line workers, assuming COVID-19 arises out of the course of employment. The ruling’s definition of “front-line workers” covers several and other occupations. However, now it is reported that the Workers’ Compensation Commission is repealing this emergency rule.