People the world over are feeling a bit scared of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). With an epicenter believed to be in Wuhan, China, the virus has since been confirmed in more than 110 countries and territories. More than 118,000 cases and more than 4,200 deaths — at the time of this writing — have been confirmed, too, underlining the severity of the pandemic.
With COVID-19 posing such a significant threat, especially to people with underlying health conditions, companies across the world are closing their doors for an indeterminate period of time to try to limit the virus’s spread. Many businesses here in America are doing the same or telling their employees to work from home. If someone contracts coronavirus or otherwise misses work because of it, can they file for workers’ compensation benefits to keep their finances afloat?
Coronavirus Likely Not Covered by Workers’ Comp
At this time and how workers’ compensation insurance policies are typically written, there is no clear indicator that contracting coronavirus in the workplace would justify a workers’ compensation claim. A workers’ compensation policy might account for “occupational illnesses” that are encountered and contracted due to a person’s expected or normal work routine. For example, doctors and nurses who must see, diagnose, and treat ill patients are often able to file for workers’ compensation if they catch a dangerous illness from one of those patients.
In most other professions, though, dealing with people with physical, contagious illnesses isn’t part of the job. If your coworker shows up with COVID-19 in their system, then that unfortunate circumstance might be considered just part of life. The same is true if a customer or client enters your workplace while contagious. Your employer can take steps to try to stop them from spreading their illness, like encouraging online or digital interactions and putting hand sanitizer throughout the workplace. Yet, ultimately, encountering someone ill with COVID-19 isn’t related to your job description, except for people working in medical, healthcare, and in-home care fields.
Wide Spread of COVID-19 Muddles Its Origin
The prevalence of coronavirus also makes filing a valid workers’ compensation claim difficult in any profession. Workers’ compensation can only provide benefits for occupational illnesses contracted in the workplace or due to the claimant’s line of work. With COVID-19 not showing symptoms in most people for possibly weeks after contraction, it is feared that millions of people are walking around right now without knowing they are contagious.
In other words, you could catch coronavirus from almost anywhere and not know it for days or weeks. An insurance company reviewing your coronavirus workers’ comp claim would almost certainly challenge you to prove you contracted it in your workplace, which would be extremely difficult to do.
COVID-19 Disability Pay
You should check to see if your employer is offering disability pay specifically allotted for coronavirus patients. Many companies are encouraging anyone diagnosed or suspected to have COVID-19 to stay home and receive disability pay until they are recovered and cleared.
Disability pay could be advantageous in the outbreak because it does not rely on how you became ill. It is merely paid to people who are unable to work for one reason or another, such as being forced into quarantine for a month.
Consult an Attorney When in Doubt
If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and you suspect you caught it while at work, you should not assume you can’t file for workers’ compensation. There could be a wrinkle in the law or a new legal development that validates your case. Instead, consult with a local workers’ compensation lawyer to discuss your options.