Emergency first responder walks in a hospital parking lot in front of an ambulance.

Workers’ Compensation Eligibility for Employees Who Contract COVID-19

Emergency Rules for First Responders, Essential Workers in Missouri & Illinois

For months, first responders and healthcare professionals have gone above and beyond the call of duty to keep our communities safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have paid the ultimate price for their bravery and selflessness.

Celia Yap Banago, RN, worked for nearly 40 years at the Kansas City-area hospital, Research Medical Center. She was stationed in the cardiac telemetry unit in March 2020 when a patient she was treating began showing symptoms and then tested positive for COVID-19. With the hospital’s personal protective equipment (PPE) allegedly being reserved for other units, Celia and her coworkers were concerned about possible exposure to the deadly virus.

Tragically, Celia also tested positive and died from complications of Coronavirus in April, after being bedridden for two and a half weeks.

As reopening protocols continue to fluctuate across the country, employees are going back to work. And many are wondering: What will happen to my paycheck if I become infected with COVID-19?

Emergency Rules for First Responders and Essential Employees Who Contract COVID-19

Workers’ Compensation, or Workers’ Comp, is a state-regulated program that provides benefits for employees who experience a work-related illness or injury. Each state has control of how their funds are used — and are now taking steps to determine if and how benefits can be extended to employees who contract COVID-19.

Because Workers’ Compensation is specifically for work-related incidents, it is quite rare for benefits to be extended for general illness such as strep, pneumonia or the flu. But Coronavirus is no ordinary illness.

In the age of COVID-19, a person who is symptomatic or possibly exposed to the virus must follow the CDC’s recommendation to self-quarantine for 14 days. This could force an employee to use earned sick leave, PTO, unpaid time, or some combination of the three while they are unable to return to work. As a result, several states have issued emergency rules to extend Workers’ Compensation benefits to certain classifications of employees who are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19:

  • If your employer is in the state of Illinois: Governor Jay Pritzker signed HB 2455 into law on June 5, 2020. This legislation creates a rebuttable presumption of Workers’ Compensation coverage for first responders and front-line workers who contract COVID-19. Essential employees in a variety of industries, as defined by the state’s Executive Order 2020-10, are also considered front-line workers under the new law.
  • If your employer is in the state of Missouri: Governor Mike Parson directed the Department of Labor & Industrial Relations to implement an emergency rule that presumes first responders who contract COVID-19, or are ordered to self-quarantine, were exposed to the virus in their line of duty. This emergency rule extends the presumption to law enforcement officers, firefighters, and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) only.

Also of note: The Division of Federal Employees’ Compensation (DFEC) created new procedures to address Workers’ Compensation claims related to COVID-19 for federal employees, along with a COVID-19 Task Force.

How Emergency Rules for COVID-19 May Impact Workers’ Compensation Claims

Much remains to be seen about the successes or potential shortfalls of these efforts to accommodate COVID-19 related Workers’ Comp claims. At the very least, they represent a good faith effort on behalf of state and federal governments to address the financial challenges many Americans are facing as a result of the pandemic.

While we make no attempt to predict the outcome of Workers’ Compensation claims related to COVID-19, all employees should be aware of these important considerations:

1. These protections are not absolute. An employer can challenge a claim for Workers’ Compensation benefits.

Illinois’ legislation creates a “rebuttable presumption of compensability.” This is a statement assumed to be true unless proven otherwise, such as “innocent until proven guilty.” In other words, an employee who claims to have contracted COVID-19 at work is assumed to be telling the truth — unless their employer can debunk the claim.

Both Illinois HB 2455 and Missouri’s emergency rule include language about how an employer could refute their employee’s allegations. And while Illinois has created a rebuttable presumption for employees, Missouri has only created a presumption.

2. COVID-19 is highly contagious and exposure may be hard to prove.

One way an employer could disprove their employee’s allegation of contracting COVID-19 at work is by presenting “clear and convincing evidence” that the employee was exposed by another source. But the source of a COVID-19 infection may not be easy to pinpoint, such as a sexually transmitted disease.

For example, a Missouri truck driver named Glenn Green filed a Workers’ Compensation claim after he became seriously ill during one of his routes and was placed in intensive care. Green tested positive for COVID-19 and was unable to work for more than two months while he recovered. Sadly, his Workers’ Compensation claim was denied just three days after he was discharged from the hospital because his diagnosis “could not be linked to anyone he came in contact with while working.”

Until a greater sample of results of Workers’ Compensation claims related to COVID-19 are available, one cannot be sure how thoroughly or aggressively they will need to prove the source of their infection and/or need to quarantine.

3. The Coronavirus pandemic is full of unknowns.

As more nonessential businesses are reopening, more unknowns are being introduced:

  • Will there be a new wave of Workers’ Compensation claims from individuals in non-first responder, nonessential roles?
  • Are Workers’ Compensation programs adequately funded to pay claims and/or death benefits for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have contracted COVID-19?
  • Will Workers’ Comp claims related to COVID-19 be highly scrutinized? Will the level of scrutiny increase as more claims are received?

We are facing uncharted economic circumstances, which may leave you feeling uncertain and overwhelmed. Remember: We are all in this together, and the personal injury legal team at Padberg, Corrigan & Appelbaum is here for anyone who needs our services.

Padberg, Corrigan & Appelbaum is Fighting for Employees

The St. Louis-based law firm of Padberg, Corrigan & Appelbaum is proud to represent hard-working employees who are seeking Workers’ Compensation for a work-related accident or injury — including exposure to COVID-19. Everyone has the right to a safe and equitable workplace, no matter what industry or profession they serve. And remember: you do NOT need to wait until your Workers’ Compensation claim is reviewed before contacting an attorney.

Padberg, Corrigan & Appelbaum works on a contingency fee basis, which means we do not charge for our services unless we are able to recover a settlement or judgment for your case. See a list of previous settlements and client victories in our Workers’ Compensation practice.

Thank you to all of the first responders and essential employees for your selfless dedication during the Coronavirus pandemic. If you would like to discuss your questions or concerns, please send a message or call our office at (314) 621-2900 for a free and confidential consultation.

 

The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice, nor is it intended to. After publication, this article may not include the most up-to-date legal or other information.

Contact an attorney to obtain advice for any particular legal matter. Use of and access to this article and any resources contained within it does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and our law firm.