The response to COVID-19 has led to a nationwide shutdown of non-essential goods and services along with stay at home requests and orders. As of April 2, 2020, there are 245,000 cases in the U.S. and 6,000 deaths. At present, these numbers have been predicted to go much higher.
Like other industries, this is putting a lot of lawyers out of work as firms look to cut costs as revenue streams dry up. However, there are some areas of the practice of law that could see an increase in cases. One of those is workers’ compensation as workers feel that they got the virus at work and now are suffering the financial consequences of the virus.
Can an Employee Make a Work-Related COVID-19 Claim?
So what happens when a worker feels he or she got the virus at work? Can you sue your employer? Can you claim worker’s compensation? If so, what are the benefits and what if the worker is left with permanent injuries?
Worker’s compensation is not just for accidents like a fall or sudden exposure to toxic chemicals, it’s also for getting a sickness that comes from your work. However, the cause must be characteristic of work-related activities. In many cases, this is going to be difficult if not impossible to establish.
Essential Elements of a Work-Related Sickness
A worker’s compensation claim can only be made for work-related accidents and illnesses. So the employee has certain factual circumstances to prove before he or she can make a successful claim:
- The employee has to prove—in terms of risk—that you got the virus at work.
- The employee has to establish that getting the COVID-19 virus came from a cause characteristic of the place of employment.
- The employee’s type of work must have substantially contributed to him or her getting infected by the virus, or there must be evidence that the virus was contracted arising out of and in the course of one’s employment.
For example, a forklift operator at a warehouse test positive for COVID-19, then it would be hard to prove that any cause of the virus was characteristic of driving a forklift or that the nature of driving a forklift substantially contributed to getting the virus.
However, if a hospital worker got sick, then it would be much easier in terms of risk and of the nature of the work to show that the virus came from work. Some attorneys say it may be medically and legally foreseeable.
What Benefits Can an Infected Employee Expect?
If the virus is considered a work-related injury, then the employee can get all benefits under that state’s WC laws. Typically it would include all related medical bills, time off from work, lost future wages, vocational retraining if necessary and even death benefits for the family if the worker succumbs to the virus.
Lawyers Getting Ready
Worker’s compensation law firms are getting ready for the deluge of cases that will inevitably follow calamity of this sort. However, they will have to work hard on two fronts if they are not going to be overwhelmed.
First, they have to be prepared to deal with work-related sicknesses as opposed to work-related accidents. These are handled differently under most states’ worker’s compensation laws.
Second, they have to put out information designed at informing people of their state worker’s compensation laws. Infected workers need to be educated on how the law works and know that just because they got the virus and have a job, doesn’t mean that worker’s compensation is going to cover them while they are out of work.