Can Employees Get Worker’s Compensation for COVID-19 in the U.S.?

When an employee is sick with the corona virus, they may be off work, losing income, and incurring medical bills. Can they file for worker’s compensation? For most, the answer is no. But some workers may be eligible. It depends on whether contracting COVID-19 is a likely result of performing their job duties.

Which Workers Qualify for Worker’s Compensation?

Worker’s compensation law, both federal and state, enables employees to recover lost wages, medical treatment costs, occupational rehabilitation and other costs resulting from a work-related injury. The worker’s compensation system, beneficial to employer and employee alike, avoids time-consuming and costly personal injury lawsuits against employers that may take years to resolve. Whether an employee can recover damages through workers compensation, however, depends on four criteria: employment status, a work-related injury or illness, employer workers compensation insurance, and a timely claim. For employees seeking compensation for COVID-19, employment status and work-related illness are not always clear.

Employees Only

Only employees qualify, not independent contractors, volunteers or temporary workers (unless covered by the staffing agency that placed them). Independent contractors who are treated as employees, however, may qualify. If the independent contractor has little control over their work, for example, the employer directs job hours, performance and location, they may be considered an employee.

So, for example, per diem, on call, home care, and registry nurses may all be considered employees, depending on how much control the contracting party has over the employment: a registry that matches caregivers with patients, decides whether a nurse should accept a patient to work with or enforces policies controlling off-duty behavior may be an employer. Many healthcare, emergency, and law enforcement providers contract with private companies for essential services. Whether they are deemed employees for COVID-19 compensation is a case by case factual examination.

Work-Related Illness

To file, the claimant must have a work-related injury or illness, meaning the employee was injured or became ill while performing their job duties—for the benefit of the employer--or as a result of performing their job duties. A claim may be denied if the employee was injured or contracted an illness outside work, on a lunch break or off duty. Healthcare workers or first responders who contract COVID-19 as first responders or healthcare employees are presumed to have become ill due to their work with the public. However, the claim requires proof of diagnosis, when the illness occurred and timeliness of the claim.

The Federal Employee Compensation Act (FECA) compensates federal workers for damages from COVID-19 contracted on the job when the job requires frequent public exposure, such as healthcare, law enforcement and first responder employees—without proof of when or how they caught the virus. State worker’s compensation laws, however, vary, as to mandatory coverage and claim qualifications. All federal and state workers compensation laws have reporting requirements and time limitations in which to file claims.

If a COVID-19-stricken employee meets all four criteria, regardless of fault, the employee may recover their losses. But since COVID-19 is temporary (barring long-term hospitalization), short-term medical costs may be minimal.

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Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case.

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