Workers Compensation and COVID-19
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COVID-19 Economic Impacts

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on America’s economy, health care, and workers’ compensation systems. If you or a loved one has had adverse experiences related to COVID-19 exposure at work, you or your loved one may be entitled to compensation.

Front-line health care workers such as nurses, doctors, and aides, as well as firefighters, EMS, and law enforcement officers, are among the individuals with the highest risk, but all Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers as identified in Governor Newsom’s March 19, 2020, Executive Order who may have been exposed to COVID-19 as a result of their employment have potential claims for infection with COVID-19.

Other Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers include:

Healthcare/ Public Health
• Workers providing COVID-19 testing; those that perform critical essential research
• Health care providers and caregivers (e.g., physicians, dentists, psychologists, mid-level practitioners, nurses and assistants, infection control and quality assurance personnel, pharmacists, physical and occupational therapists, and assistants, social workers, speech pathologists, and diagnostic and therapeutic technicians and technologists).
• Hospital and laboratory personnel (including accounting, administrative, admitting and discharge, engineering, epidemiological, source plasma and blood donation, food service, housekeeping, medical records, information technology and operational technology, nutritionists, sanitarians, respiratory therapists, etc.).
• Workers in other medical facilities (including ambulatory health and surgical, blood banks, clinics, community mental health, comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation, dnd stage renal disease, health departments, home health care, hospices, hospitals, long-term care, organ pharmacies, procurement organizations, psychiatric, residential, rural health clinics and federally qualified health centers, cannabis retailers).

Emergency Services Sector
• Law enforcement, public safety, and first responders including front line and management, personnel include emergency management, fire, corrections, search and rescue, tactical maritime, aviation, and canine units.
• Public safety answering points and 911 call center employees
• Hazardous material responders and hazardous devices teams, from government and the private sector.
• Animal control officers and humane officers.

Public Works
• Workers who support the operation, inspection, and maintenance of essential dams, locks, and levees
• Workers such as plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences.

Food and Agriculture
• Workers supporting groceries, pharmacies, and other retail that sells food and beverage products, including but not limited to grocery stores, corner stores and convenience stores, including liquor stores that sell food, farmers’ markets, food banks, farm and produce stands, supermarkets, similar food retail establishments, big box stores that sell groceries and essentials.
• Restaurant carry-out and quick-serve food operations – including food preparation, carry-out, and delivery food employees.
• Food manufacturer employees and their supplier employees—to include those employed in food processing (packers, meat processing, cheese plants, milk plants, produce, etc.) facilities; livestock, poultry, seafood slaughter facilities; pet and animal feed processing facilities; human food facilities producing by-products for animal food; beverage production facilities; and the production of food packaging.
• Farmworkers to include those employed in animal food, feed, and ingredient production, packaging, and distribution; manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of veterinary drugs; truck delivery and transport; farm and fishery labor needed to produce our food supply domestically.
• Animal agriculture workers to include those employed in veterinary health; manufacturing and distribution of animal medical materials, animal vaccines, animal drugs, feed ingredients, feed, and bedding, etc.; transportation of live animals, animal medical materials; transportation of deceased animals for disposal; raising of animals for food; animal production operations; slaughter and packing plants and associated regulatory and government workforce.

Energy
• Workers who maintain, ensure, or restore the generation, transmission, and distribution of electric power, including call centers, utility workers, reliability engineers, and fleet maintenance technicians.
• Petroleum product storage, pipeline, marine transport, terminals, rail transport, road transport.

Water
• Operational staff at water authorities, wastewater treatment, and community water systems
• Workers repairing water and wastewater conveyances and performing required sampling or monitoring.

Transportation and Logistics
• Employees supporting or enabling transportation functions, including dispatchers, maintenance and repair technicians, warehouse workers, truck stop and rest area workers, and workers that maintain and inspect infrastructure (including those that require cross-border travel)
• Taxis, transportation services including Transportation Network Companies, and delivery services including Delivery Network Companies
• Workers responsible for operating dispatching passenger, commuter, and freight trains and maintaining rail infrastructure and equipment
• Postal and shipping workers, to include private companies
• Automotive repair and maintenance facilities.

Communications and Information Technology
• Maintenance of communications infrastructure- including privately owned and maintained communication systems- supported by technicians, operators, call-centers, wireline, and wireless providers, cable service providers, satellite operations, undersea cable landing stations, Internet Exchange Points, and manufacturers and distributors of communications equipment
• Workers who support radio, television, and media service, including, but not limited to front line news reporters, studio, and technicians for newsgathering and reporting

Financial Services
• Workers who are needed to process and maintain systems for processing financial transactions and services (e.g., payment, clearing, and settlement; wholesale funding; insurance services; and capital markets activities)
• Workers who are needed to provide consumer access to banking and lending services, including ATMs, and to move currency and payments (e.g., armored cash carriers)
• Workers who support financial operations, such as those staffing data and security operations centers.

Defense Industrial Base
• Workers who support the essential services required to meet national security commitments to the federal government and the U.S. military.
• These individuals include but are not limited to, aerospace; mechanical and software engineers, manufacturing/production workers; IT support; security staff; security personnel; intelligence support, aircraft, and weapon system mechanics and maintainers
• Personnel working for companies, and their subcontractors, who perform under contract to the Department of Defense providing materials and services to the Department of Defense, and government-owned/contractor-operated and government-owned/government-operated facilities. 

It is estimated that the annual cost of COVID-19 claims on essential workers range from $2.2 billion to $33.6 billion with an approximate mid-range estimate of $11.2 billion, or 61% of the annual estimated cost of the total workers’ compensation system prior to the impact of the pandemic.

Workers’ Compensation and COVID-19

The COVID-19 virus (coronavirus) is the latest infectious disease that has emerged with a huge impact worldwide. Over the last two months, since the first US case of coronavirus was confirmed, there has already been an impact to the Workers’ Compensation environment.

At least 10 states have issued mandates for coverage of coronavirus. The mandates vary by state, but they include coverage for testing and visits to emergency rooms or urgent care facilities either in-network or out-of-network without deductibles or copays, as well as disability payments for time infected with COVID-19. These measures, if expanded to more states, could have the impact of limiting claim activity in the workers’ compensation market in those cases where only testing or quarantine are necessary.

While workers’ compensation laws provide compensation for “occupational diseases” that arise, many states exclude “ordinary diseases of life,” like the common cold or flu. There are people in occupations that arguably would have a higher probability for exposure such as healthcare and other essential workers. However, even in those cases, there may be uncertainty as to whether the disease could justify a workers’ compensation case. Some states require clear and convincing evidence that the virus was acquired at work as opposed to exposure on the street, in a restaurant, or from a friend or family member. This burden of proof imposes a barrier to receiving benefits.

California Claims

As of April 28, 2020, the State Compensation Insurance Fund (SCIF) expanded coverage of COVID-19 claims to essential workers in California, regardless of whether or not they can prove the virus was contracted during the course of employment. The diagnosis must include a confirmed positive test for COVID-19 and must occur during the period of time between when the Governor issued his Shelter-in-Place order (March 19, 2020) and before that order is lifted. 

Additionally, SCIF is providing temporary disability benefits to any covered essential worker who is required to self-quarantine and are not covered by another source of wage-replacement benefits. This will replace the Essential Worker Support Fund that SCIF announced to policyholders, as all employees who would have been covered under that fund are now entitled to full workers’ compensation benefits. 

Your Legal Options

Our attorneys are currently evaluating worker’s compensation cases related to COVID-19.  If you suspect you, a family member, or a friend contracted COVID-19 while on the job, please contact Hugh Cook at 800-598-0314.